Monday Memories: Old-time Courtesies

small courtesies

The Australian Women’s Weekly, 27 May 1939 p34

It’s traditional for the older generation to bemoan “things aren’t how they used to be”. Well of course not…life is one long process of change. For no particular reason I’ve been reflecting on some of the little courtesies that were prevalent in my youth, some of which have faded from sight, and some still remain, perhaps in a changed form.courtesy quote

  • Men walking on the road side of the footpath (pavement). As I recall the intention was they would deflect the dangers of a runaway car, or earlier, a horse and cart.
  • Children standing up for adults on public transport. This one definitely seems to have gone the way of the horse and cart. Small children might have been bundled on to their parent’s lap, but older children were always, always expected to stand if an adult needed a seat. Similarly, men would stand for women, and anyone would stand for a pregnant woman, older man or woman, or someone who had a disability.
  • Men opening the car door for women. I still see this happening – but not in our family. As my husband quite rightly points out, he’d have Buckley’s chance of getting there before I’m out <smile>. However, there are some of our friends for whom this remains de rigeur.
  • Men raising their hats and people standing silent when a funeral passes. This too has passed except in country areas where I think it does continue.Good manners
  • Men doffed their hats when meeting a woman. Now men rarely wear hats.
  • Women not shaking hands. Men were definitely not to offer their hands for a handshake to a woman without first being offered theirs. This has changed with the presence of women in the workforce, though for many years men were left with the confusing question – to shake or not to shake. For men of course the handshake is compulsory – and for some the stronger the better. Personally I don’t like a wishy-washy handshake, but I don’t like it being a test of power or strength either.
  • Women wearing gloves and hats. Not really a courtesy but a lady would never be seen out in the public domain without her gloves and a hat – and wearing stockings.
  • Women were never to be congratulated on getting engaged as it implied they were lucky to have finally achieved this transition to marital status.
  • Never discuss religion or politics. Perhaps we’d have been wiser to maintain this courtesy these days…fewer “debates”.
aww 25 Nov 1970 p29 dancing

The Austalian Women’s Weekly 25 Nov 1970, p29

  • Men never swore in front of ladies, and ladies, of course, never swore. In my family that was certainly true. As for myself these days…”no comment”.
  • Children were everyone’s responsibility – a badly behaved child would be reprimanded by whichever adult was close by. Of course children were often expected to be seen and not heard too.
  • Writing letters to friends and family to thank them for gifts.
  • All adult friends of the family were called “aunty” or “uncle” irrespective of kinship. Otherwise they were Mr or Mrs or Miss. Does your family still do this?
  • Men opening doors for women. I notice this still happens often. My personal habit is to always thank them for the courtesy, rather than just sail through. One of my pet bugbears is opening, or holding open, a door for people who just walk through without a sideways glance as if you’re a paid doorman.
  • Women were allowed on the bus/tram first. And look where that got the men on the Titanic!
  • Thanking the bus driver when you got off. I’m pleased to say that this still happens most of the time on public transport in Brisbane.

I’m sure my genimates will come up with some other old-time courtesies that I’ve forgotten…I’d love to hear from you.

Do you think courtesy still matters and is practiced in the 21st century?

Are good manners the same thing as courtesy? What do you think?

 

Honouring the Fallen of Fromelles

One hundred years ago, Australian soldiers were fighting the desperate battle for their lives near the tiny French hamlet of Fromelles. That 24 hours from the evening of the 19th July 1916 was to be the bloodiest and most disastrous day in Australia’s military history to date (and may it so remain). And yet, when I began my research nearly 30 years ago, this battle was poorly known and rarely mentioned.

Enlistment photo of Photograph of James Gavin in The Queenslander of 2 October 1915, page 24.

Enlistment photo of Photograph of James Gavin in The Queenslander of 2 October 1915, page 24.

In the beginning hours of his first battle, my grandfather’s cousin, James Augustus Gavin, was among the early, and perhaps fortunate, fatalities in this deadly and bloody nursery of war. His would be the first death among my grandfather’s cousins in World War I.

“Not as many lost as first feared…only 5533” wrote Lt Col Walter Edmund Cass. How I fumed as I read those words in the Australian War Memorial back in 1990. How dare this officer be so glib about such horrendous loss!

This number counted the casualties (killed, wounded and missing) but not the mental anguish to the men, who were sacrificed wastefully.

Cass was an experienced officer, a career soldier who’d been on Gallipoli and in the Boer War. He had been in the thick of this battle, in a forward position, so exposed that it was a bulge in the line, surrounded by Germans and exposed to their higher position.

A studio photo of Lt Col Cass perhaps around the time of his posting to France. AWM photograph A01470, copyright expired. The photo is shown as Lt Col ERH Cass CMG so it appears the initials are a mistake.

A studio photo of Lt Col Cass perhaps around the time of his posting to France. AWM photograph A01470, copyright expired.

Despite his experience, or perhaps even because of it, this battle was the last he’d ever fight in war. He was broken by the loss of so many of his men’s lives. “My boys, my boys! They’ve murdered my boys!”.  He was talking about the actions of the more senior “British” officers, not the Germans, and in acts of insubordination that may have seen him shot in the British Army (or perhaps without the medals he already held), he argued fiercely with his superiors.

Fromelles Pheasant Wood

The Pheasant Wood cemetery 2014. The Germans had lookouts in the church tower.

The Germans had offered a short truce so that bodies could be recovered (alive or dead), but knowing the British refusal to accept even this level of accord, McCay had refused. And so the men, who had managed to fall back, could hear their mates calling for help and pleading “don’t forget me, cobber“. How many men might have returned to their families if a different decision was made? How many men might have carried a lesser mental burden had they been permitted to help their mates?

This was how the Germans came to bury some of the Australian fallen in Pheasant Wood, below Fromelles. It would be over 80 years later that the men were found – the farmer’s crops never flourished in that area. The determination of individuals revealed this forgotten burial ground, German records confirmed it, and the modern science of DNA revealed the identities of the men.

Memorial plaque on the Cobbers sculpture.

Memorial plaque on the Cobbers sculpture.

Today, those visiting Fromelles can see the new Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) memorial with its beautifully maintained war graves. The Cobbers Memorial (do read the link) honours the fallen and the mates they fought with.

Peter stands beside the memorial which stands on the German bunker where his great-uncle WEH Cass fought with his battalion.

Mr Cassmob stands beside the memorial which is where his great-uncle WEH Cass fought with the 54th battalion.

 

And yet, for me, the cemetery at Rue Petillon near Fleurbaix tells the tale more starkly. The gravestones stand like teeth, tight side by side. Surrounding the cemetery are farmhouses and the fields for which the men fought, now so tranquil.

The location of James Gavin's grave in Rue Petillon cemetery November 1992.

The location of James Gavin’s grave in Rue Petillon cemetery November 1992.

L/Cpl James Gavin's gravestone in Rue Petillon cemetery: the family's inscription can be read.

L/Cpl James Gavin’s gravestone in Rue Petillon cemetery includes the family’s inscription.

Among them lies the grave of James Augustus Gavin. It was a privilege to visit him in 1992 and it remains a privilege today to remember him. You have not been forgotten cobber.

Lest We Forget.

You might like to read these earlier posts about Fromelles, Gavin and Cass:

The Battle of Fromelles: In Memoriam L/Cpl James Augustus Gavin KIA

Fromelles, Lt Col WEH Cass and family collections

F is for the Fifteen Mile, Fromelles and Fleurbaix

Brigadier General Walter Edmund Hutchinson Cass

And a commemoration of military mate ship here.

There are a number of books available now on the battle of Fromelles:

Don’t forget me cobber by Robin Corfield

The Anzacs by Peter Pedersen

Fromelles and Pozieres by Peter Fitzsimons (includes quite a few quotes on Cass drawn from his letters and diaries, now held by State Library Victoria)

Our darkest day: Fromelles by Patrick Lindsay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sepia Saturday: Strolling in the City

Sepia Sat 338

This week’s Sepia Saturday theme was a “gimme”. I’ve had this photo strip for ages but have never used it because I felt it made my grandfather look a little gormless.

However it’s a perfect match this week, so here is Dinny strolling through Brisbane city probably in the 1920s or 1930s (the car would be a clue for some, but not me). I can’t even pick which street he’s in, but there’s a barber pole in the background, so perhaps it was George St. Perhaps he’d even been to have a haircut himself and was feeling pretty spiffy.

Denis Kunkel walking in town

He’s got one thumb tucked into his waistcoast pocket and his hat angled so he keeps the sun off his face, but then he has to tip his head to see….not so wise Grandad. I don’t think he’s coming from work as he looks dressed for the day out, not in railway attire, though as a guard he would have been more smartly dressed than in some other roles.

Looking at his shadows he’s got it falling straight behind him, so I’m thinking he’s walking on an north-south street, so perhaps it is George St down near Roma Street station. (What do you think of my directional theory?) With this in mind, I went searching our good friend Trove for images of George Street, Brisbane circa 1920 and, by jove, I do believe she’s got it!

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Harvey, J. H. (John Henry) 1921, George Street, Brisbane looking south, June 1921 [picture] Out of copyright.

Can you see the barber’s poles and the verandah on the building opposite? Thanks to the magnificent old sandstone buildings, which remarkably for Brisbane, still stand, I know exactly where this is. The lady in the image is crossing the street to the lane which runs behind where Alan & Stark’s shop was, between Albert and George Streets (patriotic lot, with our CBD streets named for royalty!)

View of Trittons furniture shop on George Street Brisbane ca. 1935

Unidentified 1935, View of Tritton’s furniture shop on George Street, Brisbane, ca. 1935, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Out of copyright.

Grandad would have been walking out of the frame on the bottom right of this image heading towards Roma Street Station. If my memory serves me correctly, the old Trittons furniture store was on the right hand side before the barber’s. And above I’ve found an image from Trove which confirms my theory, and we now know the barber/hairdresser was a T McMahon.

Brisbane map 1878 extract

Unidentified 1878, Street map of the city of Brisbane, Queensland, 1878, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. (extract). The red dot is my estimate of the location of the photo.

He had a kind heart, my granddad, so perhaps he bought the photo just to help the street photographer out, perhaps he was a fellow Digger trying to make ends meet. I know my grandparents had a camera at home, or among the extended family, because I’ve got quite a lot of photos from the 1920s/30s among their collection.

Why not stroll over to see where other Sepians are off to this week? I wonder if they got caught up in the search like I did when I found myself taking several detours into Trove…I left my mental wanderings as a breadcrumb trail.

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On the Importance of Trove

Over the past few days, there have been family historians around the country, possibly around the world, suffering from withdrawal symptoms as our favourite web-site, Trove, undergoes a revamp.

While that sunbeam is now available to brighten our lives, there’s a shadow of gloom hanging over all aspects of the National Library of Australia with announced cuts to government funding.

Support Trove

It would be simple to think that Trove is there just to serve a “bunch of middle-aged genealogists” with nothing else to do. That would be very far from the truth.

Trove is a true national treasure – it reveals nuances of our nation’s history which would otherwise remain obscure or unknown. Much of that may relate to the ordinary people of past eras but they are the ones who built our nation with their hard work and sweat from developing farms, taking risks, travelling vast distances, building railways, fighting wars, working in factories. Yes, the heavy-hitters may have been in charge, but they’d have been nowhere without the ordinary person. Our whole nation’s ethos is built on the belief of the “ordinary man” – sometimes to the detriment of our tall poppies who pay the price for being extraordinary in their fields.

While many official records in archives or libraries can provide us with insights into past lives, Trove reveals the stories that go well beyond the easy research points of specific dates, like births, deaths, marriages or funerals.

Without Trove (and appropriate funding for the National Library) we lose the chance to explore specific topics of broader national interest than our individual families, important as they are to us.

In my own wider research, I use Trove to enlighten me on two One Place Studies:

  1. The lives and fates of immigrants from East County Clare, Ireland. Prior to the digitisation of Trove I’d have found it nigh impossible to learn what happened to many of the people in my 1100 person database, let alone discover more emigrants.
  2. The life of the small Queensland community of Murphy’s Creek at the base of the Toowoomba range – documenting its morphing characteristics over decades from a thriving railway construction tent-site to a thriving community then its decline and later regeneration.

Similarly, my genimate Merron extensively uses Trove to research the history of Victoria’s Western District Pioneers.

International researchers find references to their families or local events that were revealed in Australian newspapers: it’s not just Australia that benefits.

The list could go on and on. It’s not “just” genealogists using Trove for their own families but it has much wider applications. Anyone who uses international digitised newspapers could confirm that Trove is a world leader in terms of access to multiple sources (news, images, theses, books) – no other source that I’ve used comes close to its standards.

The grassroots love of Trove is evidenced by the extent of voluntary editing of text from the OCR images, especially challenging with early newspapers. Truly a huge community contribution of millions of corrections…just imagine the people power behind that.

But of course we’re not just talking about potential cuts to our beloved Trove. If you’ve visited the National Library in person, or searched the catalogue, you will appreciate that Trove is just one part of a suite of its store of our nation’s history. How this can be undervalued and funding cut bewilders my mind. Do our political leaders not care about our nation’s history? If they do, why does everything else take precedence over knowledge and learning?

What do you think about the threat to research into our nation’s history? 

If you have a twitter account you can join the protest using the #fundtrove tag and include @senatorfield in your tweet. It’s time for us to stand up for what we think is so important to our history.

You might be interested in some of these stories:

Our major cultural institutions are in crisis

International researchers value work of Australian libraries and archives.

Australia Day 2016

wattleYesterday I was reflecting on my Aussie heritage and why I am such a proud Queenslander.

I had a little play with my immigrant stats and this is what I came up with, an analysis of my first immigrants to Australia, all bar one of them to Queensland.

8 Pre-Separation Queensland ancestors (pre-1859):
George Mathias Kunkel (Dorfprozelten, Bavaria)
Mary O’Brien (Broadford, Co Clare, Ireland)
Denis Gavin and his wife Ellen nee Murphy (from Kildare and Wicklow respectively)
William Partridge (from Gloucestershire, but born London)
Richard Kent, his wife Mary nee Camp and their daughter Hannah (from Sandon, Herts)

7 Post-Separation Queensland ancestors: (1860-1901)
Stephen Gillespie Melvin (Leith, Scotland)
James Sherry and his wife Bridget nee Furlong (from ?, Ireland and Tullamore, Offaly). Name changed to McShArry in Australia
Their son Peter Sherry (b Tullamore, Offaly) and his wife Mary nee Callaghan (Courtown, Wexford) Name changed to McShErry in Australia.
and Peter and Mary’s son James Joseph Sherry (born Gorey, Wexford)
Margaret Gillespie, later Melvin/Ward/Wheaton (North Shields, Northumberland)

2 Post Federation (after 1901): Annie Sim McCorkindale and her daughter, Catherine (Kit)

illustrated-front-cover-from-the-queenslander-october-2-1930

Illustrated front cover from The Queenslander October 2 1930  John Oxley Library Image 702692-19301002-s001b. Copyright expired.

8 Irish ancestors arrived from Clare, Wicklow, Wexford, Offaly, Kildare

7 of my direct ancestors were born in Queensland including 3 pre-Separation

6 groups of families immigrated: McCorkindale, Melvin, Gavin, McSherry, McSharry, Kent.

5 English ancestors emigrated from Northumberland, Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire.

4 were solo emigrants: George Kunkel, Mary O’Brien, William Partridge and Margaret Gillespie Ward.

I’m a 4th generation Queenslander – makes me a fair dinkum Maroon.

3 Scottish ancestors emigrated from Lanarkshire, Midlothian, Stirlingshire.

2 name changes: Sherry to McSherry; and Sherry to McSharry – same family.

1 German ancestor from Bavaria.

1 settled in NSW before coming to Qld: Margaret Gillespie Ward.

No wonder my roots run deep in the country.

Trove Tuesday: Support Trove

Support TroveI’ve just been reading my monthly e-newsletter from the National Library of Australia.

Every day around the country and around the world, family historians sing the praises of our wonderful Trove. It is a truly amazing research opportunity of a world-class standard. Certainly no other newspaper digitisation I use comes close to it, let alone all the other aspects of Trove: maps, journals, images, sound, books etc. The newsletter tells us that 22 million people are using Trove annually…isn’t that an astonishing success. Equally astonishing is that there are over 396 million items digitised on Trove!

support trove2And we’ve been able to access this wonderful resource completely free wherever we live around Australia or the world! Distance and isolation just don’t affect us with Trove.

The Library is appealing to us for make a donation towards the cost of maintaining Trove. I don’t know about you, but Trove has opened up family stories that I’d never have known any other way. Sure, you can go to the library and search microfilms for known events like weddings, deaths or probate, but it’s those random discoveries that reveal our ancestor’s day-to-day lives.

Why not join me in making a donation to Support Trove? I know I’ve surely had my money’s worth from it and happy to make an occasional donation to help out. I’m adding the image to my blog bar, perhaps you’d care to also?

AND MORE EXCITEMENT AHEAD

The Library also has great things in store for those of us visiting Canberra for Congress 2015:

A Special Collections Reading Room

This is how the library describes it: The lovely new space overlooking the Main Reading Room will open on schedule on Monday 5 January 2015. Readers will then have direct access to the Library’s pictures, maps, manuscripts, oral history recordings, music, ephemera and rare printed material collections in one place for the first time.

What fun we’ll have, and I wonder what family discoveries we’ll make?

Keepsakes: Australians and the Great War.

This will be a display of the Library’s own resources and memorabilia relating to World War I.

LECTURE ALERT

Professor Bill Gammage AM, author of The Broken Years, is presenting this Friday 5th December about “First AIF Men I Knew“. If you can get there, you really shouldn’t miss it. His work is remarkable.

By the way, have you ordered a National Library card yet? Do make sure you have one before Congress <tip>.

Sepia Saturday: Military Mateship

Sepia Saturday 254This week’s Sepia Saturday evoked memories of war, rather than romance and frivolity – perhaps I just can’t imagine needing or wanting to be carried across a stream. I feel like telling her “just take off your boots and hitch up your skirts, for heaven’s sake, you wuss!”.

In a week in which we remember the effects of war, this image made me think of the care, commitment and courage soldiers give to each other. It is inter-personal rather than inter-national. So here is my photo-journalism response to the topic, derived from images found on Trove.

French soldier carrying a wounded man through the trenches, Gallipoli http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/165156560

French soldier carrying a wounded man through the trenches, Gallipoli http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/165156560

30 July 1943, Corporal Leslie (Bull) Allen MM, aged 26 of Ballarat, Victoria, carrying out an injured American soldier, one of 12 he retrieved. He was awarded the US Silver Star and had already received his Military Medal (MM) on 7 February 1943, at Crystal Creek, Wau. Negative by G Short, copyright expired. Mt Tambo, New Guinea. AWM image 015515

30 July 1943, Corporal Leslie (Bull) Allen MM, aged 26 of Ballarat, Victoria, carrying out an injured American soldier, one of 12 he retrieved. He was awarded the US Silver Star and had already received his Military Medal (MM) on 7 February 1943, at Crystal Creek, Wau. Negative by G Short, copyright expired. Mt Tambo, New Guinea. AWM image 015515

Australian troops moved in behind Matilda tanks for a dawn attack on the Japanese held village of Sattelberg. A wounded soldier is carried back to a dressing station on the shoulders of a soldier. http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/165056323

Australian troops moved in behind Matilda tanks for a dawn attack on the Japanese held village of Sattelberg. A wounded soldier is carried back to a dressing station on the shoulders of a soldier. http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/165056323

Bearers (called Fuzzy Wuzzy angels) carrying a wounded soldier up a steep, muddy slope, Papua.

Bearers  carrying a wounded soldier up a steep, muddy slope, Papua. http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/165191251. The local bearers earned the recognition of being called Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels because of their work evacuating wounded men through the most horrendous, mountainous terrain of Papua New Guinea.

wo members of the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR), carry a wounded soldier from the Republic of Korea (ROK) Army along a snow-covered track towards a medical aid post. http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/165106038

Two members of the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR), carry a wounded soldier from the Republic of Korea (ROK) Army along a snow-covered track towards a medical aid post. http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/165106038

Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 1971. Australian cameraman Neil Davis carrying a wounded Cambodian soldier out of action. http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/165129872 Copyright unknown.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 1971. Australian cameraman Neil Davis carrying a wounded Cambodian soldier out of action. http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/165129872 Copyright unknown.

The courage and humanity of these men for their mates is sobering and deserves respect. Greater love has no man….

Here are some recent photos which commemorate similar acts of selflessness.

The Cobbers Memorial at Fromelles 2014.

The Cobbers Memorial at Fromelles 2014.

Part of the Tarihe Saygi (Respect for History) monument at Esceabat, (Gallipoli Peninsula) Turkey.

Part of the Tarihe Saygi (Respect for History) monument at Esceabat, (Gallipoli Peninsula) Turkey.

Skylarking in the army

Sepia Saturday 245This week’s Sepia Saturday 245 is all about men larking about, perhaps with a wee drop of whisky in the background.

army group1My images today date from a serious aspect of our nation’s history, World War II, but it’s also obvious the men weren’t on the front line and were having a fine time larking around. This series of photos is from my aunt’s photo album which I inherited. Her husband, Pat Farraher, was a cook with the Army during the War and I wrote about the serious side of his story back on Sepia Saturday 180.Pat Farraher 4

In the photos Pat and his mates are having a play stoush, doing the seemingly-inevitable rabbit ears behind a mate and generally having a light moment or two with or without the wee dram. I don’t know whether the photos were taken at Enoggera barracks in Brisbane or somewhere in Papua New Guinea, but my guess would be the former except in the final photo. Seriously, would you trust these men with the nation’s security?Army mate

I wonder how other Sepians have responded to this challenge? Do their photos reveal lurking, posing, drinking or sharing?army friends

 

This photograph has the following names on the reverse: Ned Eteell, Slim Hope, and Percy Holt. My guess is this photo is in  PNG.

This photograph has the following names on the reverse: Ned Eteell, Slim Hope, and Percy Holt. My guess is this photo is in PNG.

 

My Heritage – August Aussie Access

Recently I received this email from Emma from My Heritage. I’ve not long had a subscription with them and have been finding their records useful. I like to compare the results I get from different suppliers – sometimes you get info from one that’s not on another, or you get better/different transcriptions. Most recently I’ve been using My Heritage for some American research but how could you pass up this opportunity to try out their Aussie records for National Family History Month (August)?

My name is Emma Datny and I’m the Australian Community Manager for MyHeritage, the global family history network used by over a million Australians (and 75 million people around the world) to discover, share and preserve their family history.

You may have spoken previously with my predecessor Kim or my colleague Daniel, but I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce myself and let you know about the exciting activities we have planned for for August to celebrate National Family History Month including webinars, competitions, discounts and more!

In honour of National Family History Month this August, MyHeritage is giving FREE access to millions of Australian historical records between August 15-22. These include birth, marriage and death certificates, electoral rolls, school records, and many more. You’ll be able to search them here. We’d be grateful if you would let your readers know about this access.

Here’s a link to our blog post outlining the activities we have planned: http://blog.myheritage.com/2014/07/australia-celebrates-national-family-history-month/

Why not take this opportunity to try out My Heritage and their record sets?

100 years ago: Declaration of War

BRITAIN AT WAR. INVASION OF BELGIUM. (1914, August 6). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 7. Retrieved August 5, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1552795

BRITAIN AT WAR. INVASION OF BELGIUM. (1914, August 6). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 7. Retrieved August 5, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1552795

One hundred years ago Australians woke to the news that the Britain had declared war on Germany. In 2014 it’s difficult to appreciate how enmeshed Australia’s politics and life was with Britain’s, but the summary on the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald gives us a retrospective glimpse:

“An unparalleled scene in the history of the State Parliament took place in the Assembly yesterday…..Members sprang to their feet and sang the National Anthem (which was then God Save the King) and “Rule Britannia” and gave cheers for the King”. [i]

In the “home country”, the navy was already mobilised and the army was to be mobilised by midnight on 4 August, just an hour of the declaration of war (then the next morning Australian time).

Last night (UK time) many in Britain commemorated the start of this long tragic war by turning their lights out and lighting a candle in remembrance (see twitter #lightsout). In 1914 the declaration of war must truly have seemed a terrifying prospect despite assertions it would all be over before Christmas, but it was not to be in 1914, or 1915, rather more than four long years later.

Already on this first day, in Australia, motor cycle clubs were volunteering members as despatch riders, immigrants of German and Austrian descent rushed to take up Australian citizenship, the St John Ambulance had been placed at the disposal of the Defence Department and men were offering to enlist. The 8th Infantry Brigade had also been mobilised for coastal defence, along with the citizen naval forces. [ii]

Nothing would remain the same in society for decades to come, not least the impact of the loss of the talents, skills and love of the men killed in this battle for freedom. The loss of life, the impact on families, communities, and not least the men who returned was to be incalculable at a local, national and international level. Women would remain single for lack of men to marry, married women would not recognise their husbands as they returned with ferocious injuries to the bodies, and even more inexplicably to those at home, their minds. It astonishes me that more men on the Western Front didn’t lose their minds listening to the repeated noise of guns, artillery and bombs combined with the fear of imminent death or terrible injury. Mercifully the Australian Expeditionary Force, comprised of volunteers, prohibited the execution of a soldier for shell-shock, more often called cowardice.

The World War I memorial in the Darling Downs town of Crows Nest, Qld.

The World War I memorial in the Darling Downs town of Crows Nest, Qld.

Those who had lost loved sons, brothers or husbands erected memorials throughout the country to have a tangible reminder of those who had died in foreign lands, often with no known grave. Forlorn and tragically pleading letters from families can be read in the military files of the men, begging for any small item of their loved one’s belongings with no understanding that often they’d been blown to pieces, just like the person who’d owned them. These heart-wrenching letters begged for some small memento to give a child left behind, perhaps one whose father had never even seen them, when men rushed to marry before they left for war.

The names on this wall of the Menin Gate are only a fraction of the total listed.

The names on this wall of the Menin Gate are only a fraction of the total listed.

The walls of the Menin Gate evocatively lists 54,000 men from the British and Commonwealth forces[iii] whose lives were lost on the Ypres/Ieper salient during WWI and who have no known grave. It is sobering to think this is only a part of the losses to the British Empire during this horrendous period.

The ideals of war are the fight for freedom, justice, humanity and home soil and yet “the war to end all wars” with such a fierce loss of life was only to be a precursor to another greater social cataclysm a bare 20 years later with even greater losses of life, both civilian and military, and the massacre of whole communities.

Lest We Forget

Menin gatee

[i] SUMMARY. The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW 1842-1954) 5 August 1914 page 1. http://nla.gov.au/news-article 15527541.

[ii] ibid and also http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1552795 page 7, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 August 1914.

[iii] http://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/91800/YPRES%20(MENIN%20GATE)%20MEMORIAL