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An ANZAC Day Tribute

The small First World War Memorial window at Broughton (Vic) may seem insignificant, hardly a worthy representative of the many hundreds of stained-glass commemorative windows for publication on Anzac Day 2018.   True, it is not especially dramatic or eye-catching, simply a list of five men who did not come home, but it embodies the service and sacrifice of one country district and stands as a significant reminder of war’s impact and aftermath on rural Australia.[1]

Broughton former Methodist Church War memorial 3

Fig. 1: Brooks, Robinson & Co. (attributed), Faithful Unto Death, Memorial to five local men who died in the First World War, Methodist Church, Broughton (Vic).  Photograph: Bronwyn Hughes

The window was installed in the tiny Methodist Church at Broughton, a district in north-east Victoria, about 30 miles north of Nhill and Kaniva, close to the Big Desert country further north again.  No longer used for services, Broughton’s only church sat abandoned at a crossroads with the telephone exchange and community hall on adjacent corners and little else to catch the eye of anyone passing by the paddocks and long fence lines in every direction.

Broughton former Methodist Church 1

Fig. 2: Former Methodist Church, Broughton (Vic).  Photograph: Bronwyn Hughes

From the road outside the church, the window was barely noticeable in the gable above the entrance porch and even after entering the church, it was not immediately visible; only after turning and raising one’s eyes does this small window become the primary focus of the small space.   Its symbols are those seen in many memorial windows, honour rolls and town monuments: the crossed flags of Australia and Britain, the text ‘Faithful Unto Death’ and the badge of the Australian Military Forces indicating that these men were all soldiers, serving God, King and Empire.  At the heart of the memorial, the names of the dead are painted on a simple rectangular panel: ‘S.P. Allen. T. Dickinson. A.R. Dickinson. L.R. Etherton. C.J. Williams’.  Each name represents a loss for each family, and with profound impact on the wider community.

Broughton former Methodist Church War Memorial exterior 1

Fig. 3: Exterior view of Faithful Unto Death, former Methodist Church, Broughton, (Vic).  Note makeshift repairs, buckling and distortion of the panel and frame.  Photograph: Bronwyn Hughes

At the outbreak of war in August 1914, Broughton and the surrounding towns and district immediately signalled its patriotic credentials and throughout the war fundraising events, such as bazaars, concerts, processions and working bees were supported by the community in aid of the Schools Patriotic Fund, Red Cross and Caulfield Military Hospital, among others.  With most young men fully employed running farming enterprises, it is not surprising that recruitment in the district was relatively slow at first and only three young men enlisted in those first months.

Broughton former Methodist Church War Memorial names detail

Fig. 4: Names of the fallen, Faithful Unto Death, former Methodist Church, Broughton (Vic).         Photograph: Bronwyn Hughes

One early recruit was 25-year-old farmer, Thomas Dickinson, the second son of Lowan Shire Councillor Richard and Mrs Dickinson of Boyeo (just down the road from Broughton).  Tom, a popular young man according to the local press, enlisted on 29 September 1914 to become a trooper in the 9th Light Horse.[2]  After training in Egypt the regiment was sent to Gallipoli, without their horses, landing in May 1915.   Held in reserve in the disastrous attack on the Nek, the regiment was at the forefront of fighting in the attack on Hill 60 in August. Tom, promoted to Lance-Corporal only the previous month, was killed in action on 28 August 1919 when he was shot in the spine.  He was one of the hundreds killed or wounded over three days of fighting, for no territorial advance.

Breaking this terrible news to the family was the unenviable task of Reverend Sidney G Davis of St George’s Church of England, Nhill who rode to ‘Rosedale’, the Dickinson property.[3]

When the Broughton school unveiled its Honour Roll on Anzac Day 1917, Lance-Corporal Thomas Dickinson’s name was first of the dozen already inscribed.  Despite personal loss, (three nephews were also among the casualties), Cr Dickinson chaired many district events in support of the war effort and was a prominent speaker in favour of the ‘Yes’ vote’ in the conscription referenda.

However, news of the Gallipoli Campaign (before casualty lists began to grow) spurred many others to ‘join the colours’, and by mid-1915, 110 men from Nhill and surrounding districts were among them.[4]  On 26 July 1915, 32-year old farmer Stephen Percy Allen enlisted in 8th Battalion AIF.[5]  He was one of four sons of Frederick Allen, who had selected land near Broughton in 1883 and was reputed to be one of the finest stock breeders in the Wimmera.[6] Too late for the Gallipoli campaign, Stephen went to France and soon after was in hospital with mumps, along with many of his old Broughton friends and comrades in his unit and later the same year, he was wounded in the right shoulder.[7]  Just as the war was turning in the Allies favour with the Battle of Amiens, Stephen was reported ‘wounded and missing’; this was later amended to ‘killed in action’.[8]

22-year old farmer, Charles John Williams, son of Daisy and Arthur Williams of Sandsmere, enlisted on the same day as Stephen Allen and was also one of the 8th Battalion.[9]  It seems possible that, despite the difference in their ages, the two were friends. Not surprisingly, he too contracted mumps in France; and he was wounded on 26 July 1916, two days after Stephen.  On his return to the unit, he transferred to the 2nd Light Trench Mortar Battery and worked in a team of three men, generally firing Stokes mortars.  On 10 February 1917, Charlie received another gun shot wound which proved fatal.   His commanding officer, Captain James D Johnstone wrote to Mr and Mrs Williams a few days later.

…Your son had been for some months in the battery… and from the very first was known and respected by every man in the battery as “pure white”.  On the night of the 10th we were undertaking some operation against the German trenches, and Charlie was one of these, with his corporal (Brennard) and his chum Wiffen, from Drysdale, manning one of the mortars in the attack.  Just after the attack commenced a shell burst in their gun pit, mortally wounding all three.  Charlie, who was the worst hurt of the lot, crawled 20 yds along the trench to seek assistance for his comrades, and refused to be attended to until the others had been dressed.  There is little doubt he knew his chance of recovery was small, and meant to let his comrades have a better chance.  I think it was the bravest thing I have ever known; he gave his life for his friends…there was not a man in the battery but would have given all he had to save Charlie’s life, but he passed away despite effort, cheery to the last… [10]

Captain Johnstone recommended Charlie, unsuccessfully, for the Victoria Cross.

Three farming brothers Herb, Fred and Ben Etherton, sons of Isaac and Elizabeth Etherton joined up in 1915.[11]  After a fourth son, 22-year old Leslie Russell Etherton, enlisted on 25 March 1916, Cr. Dickinson chaired a Farewell Concert at the Broughton Hall in his honour. [12] Leslie was a Private in the 59th Battalion and probably took part in the now-legendary turn-around at Villers-Bretonneux on 25 April 1918.  He was killed in action on 29 June 1918.

Archibald Richard Dickinson, Tom’s cousin, son of Joseph Brown Dickinson of Condah (although later he moved to Yanac), was a 20-year old farm labourer when he enlisted in the 7th Battalion of the AIF on 26 March 1916.[13]  Later he went into the 2nd Machine Gun Company, which was attached to 2nd Brigade, when he would have been one of three men manning a Vickers machine gun.  He was killed in action in the Battle of Menin Road, Belgium on 21 September 1917.

A Committee of local gentlemen met to arrange Peace Celebrations for Broughton, Peechember, Yanac North and Yanac schools.  Councillor Richard Dickinson took the chair at the service and Mr JH Dickinson organised the procession.  The school children (and their generous families) once again excelled themselves with their annual gift of fresh, canned and cured products to Caulfield Military Hospital.[14]

No details of the window’s commissioning survive but it was almost certainly designed and made by Brooks, Robinson & Co for the Methodist church.  Not all the men who died identified as ‘Methodist’ on their attestation documents: Charlie Williams wrote ‘Church of Christ’ and Leslie Etherton was Church of England.[15] This suggests that the window was seen as a community memorial embracing all those families who lost loved ones whatever their denomination.  The sentiment is echoed in the plaque installed in front of the old church.

Broughton former Methodist Church plaque

Fig. 5: Commemorative plaque, unveiled on Remembrance Day 2007, Broughton (Vic.).     Photograph: Bronwyn Hughes

Since visiting the former Methodist Church in 2014, there have been some changes to the landscape.  The building, which was in a dilapidated condition, has been dismantled and a new CFA Station erected on the site. The window was removed, sandwiched between chipboard to protect it, and is stored on a local property, along with all the salvageable timber from the little building.   The custodian, having taken great care to preserve Broughton’s commemorative window is willing to pass it on to someone or an organisation willing to conserve and house it and ‘who would appreciate it for what it represents’.  It should remain as tribute and testament to the men and their district for another 100 years.

[1] Thanks to Brett Wheaton for access to the former Methodist Church, Broughton and permission to photograph the window.  The Nhill Free Press was published from 1914-1918 but has proved to be a valuable source of information on the community of the Broughton district and families of all the men who went to war.

[2] NAA: B2455, Dickinson T.  His elder brother offered his services but was rejected. Nhill Free Press, 13 July 1915, p. 2.

[3] Nhill Free Press, 27 October 1918, p. 8.

[4] Nhill Free Press, 25 June 1915, p. 2.

[5] NAA: B2455, Allen SP

[6] Horsham Times, 14 April 1933, p. 5.

[7] Herb and Fred Etherton, their cousin Creal Etherton, and Charlie Williams all contracted mumps in France. It was the third most recorded disease among the troops (after trench foot and gonorrhoea).

[8] Stephen Allen’s remains were recovered and buried at Fouquescourt British Cemetery.

[9] NAA: B2455, Williams CJ

[10] Nhill Free Press, 24 April 1917, p. 3.

[11] The eldest Etherton son [William?] was rejected for service, Nhill Free Press, 11 April 1914, p.3.  At least three Etherton families participated in the First World War. David Etherton, another of the local men in 8th Battalion, was awarded the Military medal for his part in a successful raid on 30 September 1916.

[12] NAA: B2455, Etherton L R; Nhill Free Press, 11 April 1916, p. 3.

[13] NAA: B2455, Dickinson A R

[14] Nhill Free Press, 22 November 1918, p. 3.

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