In 2014 when I took leave from work, I could not sit idle for too long, so I took up volunteering as a tour guide (that can be another post) and at the Chapman Valley museum at Nanson to catalogue all the objects that have been donated over the years and any new items that were to be donated. It is an ongoing job, however, I really wanted to do something for the Centennary of Anzac.
With the help of other members of the Chapman Valley Historical Society, we formed a project committee and built a tribute to the WWI Fallen Soldiers from the district. I took on the research of the soldiers with the help of Dr. John Sharpham. Below is my speech that I gave at the opening to the tribute, on Wednesday, 6th September 2017 with some photos taken from the day. I would have to put the opening at the top of my list of a very significant time in my life and I’m proud to have done something for the community that will be remembered for many years to come.
Welcome and thank you for coming here today on this beautiful spring day to the opening of the tribute to the WWI Fallen Soldiers from the Upper Chapman District.
In the lead up to the Centenary of Anzac, we had been travelling around in our caravan and visited many museums, as one does. I noticed that many had new WWI displays and I wanted to do something at the Chapman Valley museum, however, we already had other projects on the go so it wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.
Then in October 2015, Pam Batten and I visited Carnarvon for a Museums WA meeting and she saw their display and knew then what I was on about.
At the November meeting of the historical society, Pam suggested we could perhaps put something along these new paths that would commemorate the Centenary of Anzac. I was quick to put my hand up to be on the new project committee with several other keen members.
At our first committee meeting, we decided to start with the first Anzac’s, those from WWI. Over 150 men had enlisted from this district. However, we chose to honour the fallen as it would take a lot more time and resources to research and extract the information of every soldier who enlisted. There were 36 names on the memorial at the Nabawa Cemetery of soldiers who had fallen from the Upper Chapman District, now known as Chapman Valley.
Our first task was to identify each soldier as the memorial only listed a surname and an initial. There were spelling errors and often the initial was a nickname or a second name. Then we extracted their service history. The National Archives of Australia have digitised all the WWI records in the lead up to the Centennary of Anzac and made them available free to the public. It was a very time-consuming task.
However, 6 months into the research, divine intervention or call it what you will, someone challenged me to look further into those names on the honour boards. How do you know if all the names have been recorded correctly? They do get things wrong you know! What if you missed someone out? And what about those who came back? Well, I couldn’t leave it at that.
The district honour boards, listing only surnames and initials, were checked and cross checked and triple checked against the Australian War Memorial, the National Archives of Australia, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and various other websites and I found that there were indeed another 6 soldiers who had paid the ultimate sacrifice and had not been added to the memorial at Nabawa. Some did not have that allusive asterisk next to their name that you see on honour boards to indicate they had died in the war. We have now added those names to this tribute. The fallen soldiers from the Chapman Valley District now totalled 42.
You might be asking yourself, well why were those names missing? We need to understand the criteria for inclusion which was determined by those creating the memorial and they did vary. Sometimes they listed just those who were born in the district or those who enlisted from here. Or it could be veteran’s who came to work and live here after the war and they wanted the names of their fallen comrades on the memorials. In some cases, an individual could be named on more than one honour board or memorial.
One would have to be a very hard person not to feel any emotion when researching soldiers records. However, it became necessary to lock my heart away and focus on the task at hand.
We saw many graphic images of gross injuries and read reports of the devastating affect caused by the use of chemicals such as mustard gas and chlorine. Trench fever, from body lice that was easily spread from one soldier to another causing sores all over their bodies. Trench feet, from standing in cold, damp conditions, sometimes in mud up to their knees. The women back home were madly knitting socks and beanies to keep the troops warm and dry.
We also saw graphic images of the horses, up to their bellies in mud, pulling those heavy guns along, many too exhausted to continue on.
Swarms of flies would carry infection from refuse, the latrines and rotting corpses to their food being eaten from unwashed mess tins. Disease was just as much a threat to the troops as was the enemy. 3 soldiers from Chapman Valley died of disease.
One soldier wrote “the guns just bang away incessantly… the noise is deafening. I hope this warfare will soon end.”
Another wrote “we realised that when bullets hit you and they hurt, that’s when we knew what fear was.”
These conditions all took their toll. Some of those that ended up in hospital from an illness or were wounded, returned to their units on the front line and suddenly, had their lives cut short.
1917, 100 years ago this year, on the Western Front, was the worst year for the allies, 22 of our Chapman Valley soldiers died in that one bloody year. On the 11 April 1917 at the Battle of Bullecourt in France, over 3000 Australian’s died, 4 of our lads also died on that one day, a brother was taken as a prisoner of war and died two days later of his wounds.
The Geraldton Guardian wrote on May 1, 1926 at the unveiling of the Nabawa Memorial, “the proportion of those who fell was very high, the Commonwealth average was one in six.” Chapman Valley lost one in three.
The youngest to enlist from Chapman Valley was 18 and the oldest 40. Most were in their 20s. 3 were married with children.
17 have no known grave. I’ll let you ponder why that was!!!
Of the 60,000 Australians killed in the Great War, 1/3 were listed as missing. We read heartfelt letters from mother’s to the authorities, asking them to check the Prisoner of War lists and the hospitals for their sons. Unfortunately, many were not going to come home. Overseas war cemeteries have headstones with Kipling’s words “A soldier of the Great War…known unto God!”
In the killing of such large numbers of able bodied men and women, the war prevented them from having their own families and generating a stronger Australia.
We also wish to pay our respects to those who did return. Their challenge was to come back into the community and pick up where they left off. Their lives were forever touched by that dreadful conflict as any conflict touches everyone.
Many suffered depression, remained single and mourned the loss of their loved ones. Others were physically and mentally incapacitated with daily needs. Many were able to resume civilian lives, gain employment, get married and have families. It is these combatants that we also remember today, as no family was left untouched.
A new board has been added inside the museum on the east wall with 154 names of those who were associated with this district and enlisted in WW1.
The best tribute that we can pay to those who served is to remember them.
This tribute is also dedicated to those who have served and those who continue to serve this country.
We would like to thank everyone who has helped in any way to build this tribute.
To the families of the soldiers, thank you so much for your support, offering photographs and information. I hope we have made your boys proud.
Sandra Playle, for your military contacts both here and overseas and for your advice and encouragement.
To the Birdwood Military Museum, Irwin & Districts Historical Society and the Northampton RSL for helping to identify names and gather photographs of our soldiers.
To both the Geraldton and Northampton RSLs for your support when we were applying for the grant to build this tribute.
The Shire of Chapman Valley, thank you for supporting us in this worthwhile project which I’m sure will bring many visitors to the district.
To Lotterywest for providing the grant. Just remember, when you buy a lotto ticket, the proceeds from the sales goes towards helping non-profit organisations such as ours.
The Department of Corrective Services along with the Central Regional TAFE, thank you. We hope the work on this project has given the lads a sense of achievement.
The members of the Chapman Valley Historical Society, thank you for encouraging and supporting the project committee. And a special thanks to those who helped with the proof reading. What a mammoth task that was. Dotting i’s and crossing t’s. Putting commas in, taking them out. No! that doesn’t read right, what about this? How many times did we say that this was bigger than Ben Hur!?
Pam Batten, thank you for your tireless work in pulling this day together. No dotting of i’s but there were a few lists to cross off to get this day organised.
To the Fallen Soldiers project committee, John, Val, Kevin, Margaret & Eric who collectively came up with the idea of this tribute and Dr John Sharpham who was by my side all the way. We worked many hours together to bring this information into the format that you see here today. Thanks John.
You will notice that on each profile, there is a signature that has been clipped from the soldier’s enlistment papers when they signed on, now they have signed off.
I’m very proud to stand here today and pay tribute to the Fallen Soldiers in WW1 from the Upper Chapman District.
You gave up your today for our tomorrow.
A Duty Nobly Done. Thank you!
Richard Williams, Northampton poet, recited the Waler. There was not a dry eye in the crowd by the time he’d finished. Read and hear it here.