Commemoration connects to current community

Perfect sunny skies welcomed more than 150 people to ANZAC Park in Delungra on Saturday for a special Remembrance Day service that highlighted how World War I affected those living in the community. 

Chelsea Raw reads 'In Flanders Fields" Remembrance Day 2017, Delungra

A new version of the town’s Honour Roll, first unveiled by Mary McLeod in 1917, was freshly unveiled by Inverell Mayor Paul Harmon and followed by a commemorative address by Mrs McLeod’s great grandson, Professor Robert Batterham. 

A number of descendants of those from Delungra who served in the first World War, travelled to the district for the service including Cootamundra’s Simon Bragg, Gympie’s John Buchanan and Lake McDonald’s Bill Buchanan - all grandsons of Walter Spencer Lawry who once had a property near town. 

The service included a prayer of dedication by the Rev. Nicholas Stone; a reading of ‘In Flanders Fields’ by Delungra Primary school student Chelsea Raw;a performance of the ‘La Marseillaise’ by Peta Blyth; and a precision Catafalque Party courtesy of the air force cadets from 319 Squadron. 

Commemorative Address, Professor Robert Batterham

For [the] past 3 years we have been remembering the events of WW1, as the 100th anniversary of each of those events unfolds. We have remembered the bravery and sacrifice of our forebears who were members of the armed forces, their families and the general population of Australia at that time. We have also remembered the horrendous battles, the terrible weapons used and the dreadful effects they had on the participants.

Professor Robert Batterham gives the commemorative address on Remembrance Day 2017 in Delungra.

Professor Robert Batterham gives the commemorative address on Remembrance Day 2017 in Delungra.

I have been asked to speak is it is 100 years since my Great Grandmother Mary McLeod unveiled the WW1 Honour Roll in Delungra on 24th November 1917. I want to thank Jim Townsend who went to great efforts to find me as a representative of the McLeod family. I am greatly honoured to be here with a large proportion of Great Grandma’s descendants, including her two surviving grandsons, Alan and Ken McLeod.

Great grandma was asked to unveil the honour roll, following the death of her youngest son, Lester in 1917. A few of you will remember Great Grandma; she lived with us in Delungra when I was a child. She died in 1956, aged 98.

I am mainly going to talk about the war in 1917, then the aftermath of the war. I will use examples from my family, because that is what I know about. There is nothing special about them; they are typical of the people from Delungra at that time and typical of many thousands of families across Australia.

Delungra before WW1

Was a busy new wheat belt town, servicing the local area. From about 1907 to the beginning of WW1, there was a ‘land rush’ here. I owe my existence to the land rush as both sides of my family came here to buy land and establish farms.

The McLeod family moved to Delungra from Willmington in South Australia in 1910. Friends from South Australia included the Burt, Hamilton, Springbett and Tonkin families.

Farming at that time required real horsepower and people power, even though farms were small by today’s standards. Machines were horse draw. The only weed control was by chipping hoe. Wheat was stooked, then stacked to be thrashed and winnowed. Transport of produce from farm to rail (bagged wheat and wool bales) was by horse drawn wagons and drays (Delungra photo in Inverell Times) All this took huge numbers of people and horses.

This was the case across all of the wheat belt towns of Australia. It partly explains why there are such enormous honour roles in all these country towns. Often it is not possible to trace families due to rapid turnover of population, though I know that Peter McCarthy has made great efforts to trace families of men on the Honour Roll.

Australia during the War

Initially the Federal Government promised 33,000 men for the newly formed AIF, and there were plenty of volunteers. After news of the hardships of the Gallipoli campaign spread around the country, voluntary recruitment dropped off and conscription was proposed and defeated. Recruitment drives helped fill the gap.

Overall, close to 420,000 enlisted in the armed forces during the war and about 330,000 went overseas. About 3000 women joined the Australian Army Nursing Service. About 60,000 men died (18,000 no known graves) and 152,000 wounded, many several times.

If we multiply these numbers by six to approximate todays population it would be about 2.5 million enlisted; 2 million overseas; 360,000 servicemen killed; bit under a million wounded. It was a national calamity.

The Federal Government compulsorily acquired wheat and wool for export to Britain. Farmers received stable but relatively low prices for these commodities. This was seen as a major contribution to the war effort, so places like Delungra were important. However farmers were hampered by shortages of labour and horses. Enormous numbers of riding and draft horses were sent overseas to help the war effort.

The cost of living rose for ordinary people. The government borrowed money on the London money market and imposed an income tax to help pay for the war. Late in the war there was considerable political and social division in Australia over the conscription issue and there was a series of strikes associated with economic hardship. This division would go on for decades and was a major social cost of the war for our country.

Enormous efforts were made by the civilian population to do voluntary work to assist the war effort. As an example, the oldest of my uncles, Harold Batterham was 11 when the war started. He, along with thousands of other children, became an avid knitter of socks, and carried on a long correspondence with his cousin Bill Cameron (J W Cameron on the Honour roll), until Bill died of wounds in August 1918. Part of the correspondence between them is in the Australian War Memorial. Bill had lived with the Batterham family at Myall Creek before he enlisted in 1915.

The War in 1917

1917 was the worst year of the war for Australian casualties; about 40,000 were killed in the terrible battles on the Western Front. There are many books about those battles, so I am not going to talk about them.

From the Honour role we see that by the end of 1917 over 100 men from Delungra had enlisted (maybe 1200 from the Inverell district), and a lot had been killed in action, especially at Gallipoli. Many from this northern region of the state enlisted in the 33rd Battalion, following the Kurrajong recruitment drive. As I read the history of this Battalion, names of family members and friends of our family leapt out at me.

The McLeod brothers Lester (farmer 19), Ken (farm labourer 21) and Hubert (Bert) (farmer 24) joined the Kurrajong recruitment drive in December 1915 to March 1916.

Ken and Lester trained in C coy 33rd Battalion in Australia, then Salisbury Plain in the UK, and on to France in November 1916 into the supposedly quiet area around Armentieres.

Meanwhile, Bert, after enlistment, was held for further medical examination before being found medically unfit and so remained in Australia. I suspect that his name was originally on the war memorial as there is a blank immediately after the names of his brothers.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Lester was killed in action near Armentieres 24th February 1917. He was then 20 years old. Roy Bartlett from Delungra was with him. They were in a raiding party, attacking the German line. Roy provided an eyewitness account of Lester’s death. It is attached to Lester’s Red Cross file.

Ken wrote a letter to his sister Pearl, a teacher at Delungra Public School, saying that ‘they carried our brother’s body past me during the night, but I did not know it was him’.

About 3 weeks before Lester’s death, Herbert Batterham (my father’s cousin) was killed in action also at Armentieres 29th January.

Ken McLeod was wounded 9th June during the Battle of Messines.

On 12th October, my mother’s cousin Arthur Wiegold (Harry’s older brother) from Myall Creek was killed in action at Passchendale. This is a very significant date; one of the worst days of the War for Australian casualties.

On a better note 15th December my father’s cousin William Hector Reeves from Elcombe was awarded the Military Medal. He was also in C coy 33rd Battalion. These men would have known each other well.

End of the War

In early 1918, after signing a peace treaty with Russia, Germany moved troops from the eastern front. They tried to overrun the allied forces in France and very nearly succeeded. There was a desperate fight back with Australian troops in the thick of it—so there were many casualties.

Large numbers of fresh troops, equipment and munitions from the USA arrived in July. In September there was a collapse in German moral both on the battle field and in the now starving German civilian population. We generally think the Yanks did not do much, but their appearance on the battlefield at the time was decisive.

After the War—The World

The war ended in an armistice on 11 November 1918. Allied deaths were about 5 million with 3.5 million on the German side, wounded 13 v 8.5, total casualties on both sides maybe 37 million.

The political wash up was

  • Europe in turmoil
  • Russian revolution was underway
  • UK and the Empire were close to bankrupt
  • France had suffered enormous casualties and now close to bankrupt
  • Otterman Empire was divided up in a way that caused instability, in the Middle East, which continues to this day.

The Treaty of Versailles signed in 1919, laid the blame for the war on Germany and imposed reparation payments. The Treaty caused great resentment in Germany and contributed to the rise of Natzism and thus the second World War.

The debts incurred by all nations involved in World War 1 caused very unstable economic conditions all around the world, and eventually lead to the Great Depression in 1929.

Australia

There was joy and celebration as service personnel trickled back to Australia, then realisation of how they had been affected by the war experience. There were many sick and injured men to care for in military hospitals around the nation.

Before the war ended it was realised that the whole population would have to chip in to support disabled servicemen, and the dependants of deceased servicemen via pensions.

Delungra

After the war, labour and horses were still in short supply. Engineering advances made during the war meant that tractors, better farm machinery and trucks gradually became available, so they eventually replaced horses.

There was a wave of soldier settlement, but generally the blocks were too small to make a living. That led to a lot of hardship particularly among settlers without farming experience and family backing to get them started. Fairly quickly there was a lot of turn over of farms. It was only a few years on that Delungra, as everywhere in Australia, suffered the effects of the Great Depression. The unemployment and economic turmoil of the depression really hit Australia hard.

What happened to some of the people I have talked about?

Ken McLeod arrived back in Australia in August 1919. He signed the usual document saying he was fit and well. In fact, it is my understanding that he had ‘shell shock’. He drew a soldier settler’s block, very close to my Grandfather’s block at Mt Russell. He was a very religious man and looked after unemployed people on his farm during the Great Depression. He never married and died in a sulky accident in 1935.

Bert McLeod caught Spanish flu in 1919. His health was poor until his death in 1926.

Great grandparents John and Mary McLeod bought an 80 acre farm on the ‘Big Plain’ with a larger back block on the Bingara road. In their 60s they effectively brought up their grandchildren Uncle Lester (born May 1917 and named after his Uncle, as am I) and my mother after my grandmother died in 1921. John and Mary were never ‘well off’.

[The great grandparents retired to Delungra in their mid 80s and their house now 3 Burnett St was moved into town by Mr Lenord about 1943. It is probably the oldest house in Delungra having been a Myall Creek Station farmhouse.]

Hector Reeves worked on the family farm at Elcombe, then left to work on the railways. I met him a couple of times. He died in a shunting accident in the 1950s.

I am too young to have really known Returned Servicemen from WW1 especially from Delungra, but I did know some at Sawtell. However, as a child, I was aware that Mr Cole, who farmed just north of town, Mr Martel on whose farm my dad shared farmed when he returned from WW2, and Mr Finn (his wife Florence was one of my mother’s Waters cousins from Mt Russell) were Returned men from WW1. Clearly there were many others.

In concluding I want us to remember

Parents of deceased servicemen—my great grandparents were proud of their sons and mounded their deaths—great grandma used to show me their medals and dangerous war souvenirs.

Women whose fiancée or boyfriends were killed. I had great aunts who never married. They always made a fuss of my sister and brother and myself. It took a long time for me to realise that they had always wanted children and were deprived of that.

Families of returned servicemen—many were badly affected by the posttraumatic stress suffered by the servicemen; I had friends at high school who were in this situation following WW2.

Families of those who did not return, or died later; I have personal knowledge of this following WW2—my parents had about 12 years of marriage and my mother was a war widow for over 50 years. My mother, sister and brother and I were looked after by Legacy and Repat—Repat put me through HAC and University—way more support than after WW1

Those returned servicemen who battled away on uneconomic soldier settler blocks, or later unemployment during the Great Depression

Suffering of wounded, gassed, shell shocked returned servicemen

On the other hand, let us also remember the enormous contribution of returned servicemen to Australia; many became the leaders of their communities

Finally and most importantly, let us remember our relatives and friends of our families who were killed during WW1, and in all the wars and peace actions since. As a nation we have promised to remember them.

Peter McCarthy Opening Address

Delungra historian Peter McCarthy was the driving force behind Saturday’s service having spent countless hours researching the war history of today’s small community and tracing its connections to those living today. 

The man behind the service's research and organisational scenes, Peter McCarthy.

The man behind the service's research and organisational scenes, Peter McCarthy.

Mr McCarthy opening led the service with the following address: 

 Welcome

Distinguished guests, descendant relatives of those on the Honor Roll, ladies and gentleman...... 

Welcome on this 99th Anniversary of the Armistice on 11th November 1918 and in doing so, I acknowledge and pay my respects to the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet – the Elders and people of the Kamilaroi Nation past and present.

On 6 November 1919, King George V sent a special message to the people of the Commonwealth:

“I believe that my people in every part of the Empire fervently wish to perpetuate the memory of that Great Deliverance, and of those who laid down their lives to achieve it.”

The King requested that "a complete suspension of all our normal activities" be observed for two minutes at "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" so that "in perfect stillness the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the Glorious Dead".

Today also marks the centenary of the unveiling of our Honor Roll by Mrs. McLeod in November 1917 and honors the centenary of the passing of L/Corporal Cecil Thomas Hills at Beersheba in Palestine on 3 November 1917. 

Cecil Thomas Hills was born at Copdock in Suffolk in 1892. His parents were Arthur and Emma Hills and he grew up, along with his seven brothers and sisters on a farm where his father worked. The family moved south, and Arthur became the farm   bailiff at High Trees Farm in Newdigate Dorset.

Shortly afterwards, in 1912, Cecil emigrated to Australia. His records show that he was single, 5’ 8 ½ ‘’ tall and weighed 190 lbs, with a fair complexion, grey eyes and black hair. He took a job as a station hand with Colin Macintyre at ‘Dunvagen’ in Delungra.

On the 11th February 1915 he enlisted with the Australian Light Horse. His regiment embarked from Sydney on HMAT A29 Suevic on the 13th June and they landed at Gallipoli on the 29th August, barely six months after he enlisted. The weather gradually turned as winter swept in, and on the 27th November the bitterest blizzard for forty years swept across the Dardanelles. It was so cold that at Helles, sentries were found frozen to death. The very next day he was wounded in the thigh and hand by gunfire and it must have been some relief to him when he was transferred to the hospital ship Karapara and taken to Malta.

In February 1916 he was transferred to Alexandria and a period of training and courses ensued. On the 17th October 1917 he was promoted to Lance Corporal and later that month he was with the 12th Australian Light Horse in Palestine.

On the 31st October he participated, as part of ‘C’ Squadron, in the famous (and last ever) cavalry charge at Beersheba where he received a serious wound in the thigh and groin which punctured his pelvis. He was taken to the 35th Casualty Clearing Station at El Imara but died of his wounds on the 3rd November 1917.

On the 18th March 1918 a parcel arrived at High Trees Farm with all his personal effects. His parents had a memorial card made – In loving memory of our dear son, Cecil Thomas Hills, 12th Australian Light Horse, who died of wounds received in Palestine, November 3rd 1917, aged 25 years.

He is buried at the Be’er Sheva War Cemetery Israel, memorialized on the Honor Roll at Delungra, the War Memorial at Nedigate, in the Mole Valley, Dorset England and the Australian War Memorial Canberra.

One hundred and six names are recorded on the Delungra Honor Roll of those who “answered the call.” Many of the soldiers whose names are inscribed thereon were wounded in battle, and some were allowed to return unfitted for action. But alas! There are some who have been taken from us forever and that all that remains for us is the remembrance of what they have done.

 Nineteen paid the ultimate sacrifice and will remain forever on the rocky shores of Gallipoli, the desert sands of Be’er Sheva, the battle fields of Belgium, the shaded glades of England, and   the soft soils of the Somme. 

I invite Cr. Paul Harmon, Mayor of the Inverell Shire Council to unveil the new Memorial Plaque to be placed on the Delungra War Memorial and the Rev. Nicholas Stone to conduct the dedication.