Friday, April 24, 2009

Lest We Forget - War memorials in the Bega Valley

Aussie war memorials - honouring people, not war
Particularly after the devastation of WWI, war memorials became a common feature in almost every city, town and village across the nation. No matter how small the population, residence wanted something to mark the contribution of their residents. And for those who lost loved ones on those distant foreign shores, war memorials became a substitute for the grave they could not visit, and the solemn ceremonies held annually to remember the fallen replaced the funeral service that was never held. For the public at large, these memorials have become symbolic meeting places at which to gather and pay homage to the thousands of men and women who have put their lives on the lines - and sometimes paid the ultimate price - to protect the values they held so dear.

Towamba War Memorial dedication, 1925.
What is a war memorial?
Although most of us immediately conjure up images of the monuments that stand in main streets and public parks across the nation when we think of war memorials, there are in fact many different types - in fact they are really any tangible object created or installed to commemorate those who have served their country in war, and in more recent years, those on peace keeping missions. They include not just monuments but honour rolls, buildings, avenues of trees and various utilitarian facilities like memorial halls erected to honour and remember groups who have served their country. Across Australia today, there are more than 6,200 public memorials, erected in honour of those who have served their country during war and on peace keeping missions.

Eden War Memorial during the 2007 Anzac Day service.

In memory of their service
It is interesting to note that while most nations choose to commemorate only those who died in service of their country, Australia is unusual in that it also remembers the men and women who came home. Perhaps this is a small recognition that even those who survived did not necessarily do so unscathed - sometimes they carried with them scars invisible to the naked eye that lasted a lifetime.

In Australia, awareness of war memorials was sharpened by the entombment of the Unknown Australian Soldier on Remembrance Day, 1993. This ceremony, watched by millions on television, provoked a resurgence of regard for the digger legend, expressed in ever-larger numbers attending Anzac Day gatherings around war memorials across the country. Today, the war memorials themselves are increasingly cherished as a symbol of the men & women who fought & sometimes died during wartime service.

Community made – community owned

Most memorials erected after the Boer War & WWI were built by local communities who organised fund raising, approved designs & commissioned construction on land provided by local, state or federal governments or private individuals. The way in which names were gathered differed from place to place, as did the criteria for inclusion. On occasion, omissions occurred, causing concern, & there are numerous examples of names being added later, sometimes obviously so. One glaring absence on the Pambula memorial is that of Private Ronald Dowling of the 55th Battalion who enlisted in September 1916 before being sent to the Western Front. In the wake of the battle for Polygon Wood, Private Dowling was recommended for a Distinguished Conduct Medal "For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He accompanied his officer and sergeant in storming strong point in advance of the objective during an attack. The enemy machine gun crew were silenced, and the gun together with 30 prisoners captured. His prompt and fearless action saved many casualties." The award was officially gazetted in August the following year. Private Dowloing returned to Australia in June 1919, by which time his family had moved from Pambula to Bemboka, and with Pambula's memorial not constructed until 1935-36, his name was somehow forgotten.

Private Ron Dowling of Pambula and later Bemboka, was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal after the battle for Polygon Wood. He is one of a number of WWI servicemen who are not named on the town's memorial.

For World War II & later wars, there were more complete records, so the process of collecting names was a bit easier. It is indicative of the important place our war memorial’s have in Australian society & culture that no-one really “owns” these monuments – rather, they belong to the community at large.

War memorials in the Bega Valley Shire
Most cities, suburbs & towns have war memorials and the Bega Valley Shire is no exception. Throughout the local government area, there are at least 30 monuments, halls, honour rolls & memorial avenues of trees, all paying homage to local servicemen & women across various conflicts. They range from the grand – as in Bega’s Soldier's Memorial – ...

Bega's Soldier's Memorial is the grandest of  all the war memorials in the Bega Valley Shire simple – such as the Roll of Honour in Pambula’s Town Hall –...

Pambula's Red Cross Honour Roll, produced by Wunderlich in 1918 at a cost of £30, originally hung on the verandah of the town's post office. It was one of few things saved when that building was burnt to the ground. It now hangs in the Pambula Town Hall.

...but all are deeply valued by their respective communities as evidence of the price paid by individuals & the community at large during the various wars the nation has participated in. They provide families & communities with a focus for parades, ceremonies & the remembrance of townsfolk who fought & sometimes gave their life in defence of their nation.

Many towns across Australia also planted avenues of trees as a memorial to their servicemen and women. The Casuarina trees that stretch across the river flats from Pambula to the bridge are an example of this, planted by the townspeople to memorialise local residents who served during WWI.

Pambula's Memorial Avenue of trees across the flat were planted by local residents to commemorate those lost during WWI. They can be seen here during flooding in 1956.

Pambula's war memorial
Ten years passed after the erection of the town's honour roll before Pambula began to make moves towards construction of a permanent war memorial to mark the contributions of local men in was then called ”the great war”. In November 1928, Councillor D. W. Hart called a public meeting with the purpose of a district memorial in mind. After those present decided to go ahead with the project, fundraising began in earnest, a difficult and time consuming process when it is realised that this was carried out during what were to be the worst years of the Great Depression. As with many things both before and since, however, the district persevered and in September 1932, invited “…estimates of the cost of a suitable memorial design.” At that point, the committee had £24 in hand as well as “…a number of cattle convertible into cash…”

Finally, by late 1934, they had enough money to move towards construction of the monument, and in March 1935, the Pambula Voice announced that the memorial was to be constructed by Messrs Zeiglar and Son of Bega. Estimated cost was £150, of which they had £80 readily available. December that year saw the Voice announce the planned opening of the memorial on January 15, 1936, but the committee found that, despite having sought council approval, they had run into problems with the Main Road’s Department, who complained that they had not been consulted over the position. By this time, however, the memorial had been completed, and despite some discussion over the issue, the opening was arranged, although it had to be delayed slightly.

Anzac Day at the Pambula War Memorial, C. 1940's.

The Pambula Voice reported “In the presence of a large concourse of residents of Pambula and surrounding districts, the Soldiers’ Memorial erected in Quondola Street was unveiled last Saturday. The memorial bears over 80 names of men who enlisted for active service in the Great War, a large number of whom paid the supreme sacrifice. The unveiling ceremony was performed by Col. T. E. W. Irwin. The proceedings were initiated by a procession led by the band from the School of Arts to the memorial, where Mr. D. W. Hart, who officiated as Chairman, extended a welcome to Col. Irwin and in the course of his speech impressed upon his hearers that the memorial was an emblem of peace and a reminder of what we wanted to be, and to make our country an example to others...The observance of the last post and the singing of the national anthem brought the ceremonial proceedings to a close.” It was during the opening proceedings that Mr. W. Godfrey made an enrolment of prospective members that led to the formation of the Pambula sub-branch of the Returned Soldier’s League (RSL). The town’s first Anzac Day service at their newly constructed war memorial took place in April 1936, and it has provided a venue for remembrance of war time sacrifices every year since.

Pambula War Memorial today features additional bronze plaques commemorating the service of local men and women during WWII,, Vietnam, Korea and Malaya.

War memorials in the Bega Valley Shire today include:
1: Bega Boer War Memorial, constructed 1906
2: Bega District School Roll of Honour, 144 names recorded
3: Bega Soldiers Memorial Gates, constructed 1922
4: Bega Valley Shire Council War Memorial, constructed 1953, 47 names recorded.
5: Bemboka War Memorial, constructed 1920, 100 names recorded
6: Bermagui War Memorial, constructed 2008, 100 names recorded
7: Burragate War Memorial, constructed 1919.
8: Candelo War Memorial, 278 names recorded
9: Cobargo Soldiers Memorial, 243 names recorded
10: Cobargo RSL Memorial Hall, constructed 1949
11: Dignam's Creek Roll of Honour, 11 names recorded
12: Eden U.S. Army Service of Supply War Memorial Plaque, 33 names recorded
13: Eden RSL Memorial Hall, dedicated 1995
14: Eden U.S.A. Pilots memorial, dedicated 25 April 1997, 4 names recorded
15: Eden War Memorial, 206 names recorded
16: Kameruka Estate War Memorial, Kameruka, 10 names recorded, all killed in action
17: Merimbula War Memorial, 82 names recorded
18: Pambula District Soldiers Memorial, constructed 1935-36, 168 names recorded
19: Pambula WWI Roll of Honour, manufactured 1918, dedicated 11 April 1921, 80 names recorded
20: Quaama War Memorial, unveiled 24th April, 1999, 87 names recorded
21: Tanja Roll of Honour, Tanja Hall, 2 killed
22: Tantawangalo Public School Honour Roll, 54 names recorded
23: Tathra War Memorial, constructed 1965, names recorded 1, killed in action
24: Towamba War Memorial, constructed 1925
25: Twyford Hall Porch (constructed 8th June, 1931) and Soldiers Memorial Wing (constructed 15th December 1962), Merimbula, 79 names recorded
26: Wandella-Yowrie War Memorial, constructed 2002, 37 names recorded
27: Wolumla Memorial Hall, constructed 1952,
28: Wolumla Memorial Hall WWII Honour Roll, manufactured 1952, 72 names recorded
29: Wolumla War Memorial Gates, rededicated 1999, 122 names recorded
30: Wyndham War Memorial, constructed 1922, 88 names recorded

Buglist Mark "Reggie" Anderson sounds the Last Post during Eden's 2007 Anzac Day service.

© Angela George.

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