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Dr Bronwyn Hughes OAM

It is hard to estimate how many Honor Rolls may have been erected across Australia in the wake of the First World War.  Temporary rolls, often made of paper, were well underway while war still raged and were periodically added to as more men enlisted and amended with a tiny cross as more men died.  During the post-war period many became permanent fixtures in churches, schools and hospitals, and even organisations such as banks, insurance companies and unions drew up long lists of their staff or members to permanently record their service.   

Horsham, and the smaller communities surrounding the town, were no less backward in honouring their enlistees.  As early as 1916, the Horsham State School listed 200 names that were painted on its Honor Roll by Mr Tom Young of Firebrace Street and in the post-years two of many more were unveiled at the Pimpinio school (50 names) and the Green Park Presbyterian Sunday School.[1]

In 1920, the Shire of Wimmera began plans to erect an Honor Roll in the Council Chamber in Firebrace Street.  This was to be an elaborate memorial that incorporated a stained-glass window as well as a Roll of Honor inscribed on the timber frame that surrounded it.  Negotiations were placed in the hands of the Shire’s architect, William Garsten Lucas, who approached Melbourne’s leading stained-glass artist, William Montgomery, to draw up a design and to seek quotes for the timber frame.[2] By mid-1920, an initial design was presented to Council.

The window was designed as a single large leadlight with a background of rectangular quarries, replacing an existing sash window in the building. The centre focus of the panel was a laurel wreath of green glass, loosely tied with a glass ribbon in shades of purple that surrounded the letters ‘A I F’, set against a red background. Below the wreath, the inscription ‘Their Names Liveth For Evermore’ was finely painted across another glass ribbon. 

The timber frame at either side of the glass was wide enough to list all the names submitted to council and was topped with a shallow triangular pediment in timber. The Commonwealth Military Forces ‘Rising Sun’ badge was designed to fill the apex of the pediment, but ultimately the Council decided to replace this with the Shire of Wimmera Coat of Arms.  Other small changes included the addition of the war years ‘1914’ and ‘1918’, one at each side of the base frame.

W G Lucas (supervisor/architect for the Shire of Wimmera) and William Montgomery (stained-glass artist) collaborated on the design. The change from timber pilasters to columns is difficult to see in the photograph.

Montgomery recommended another more significant, and costly, alteration. Timber pilasters were part of the frame’s original design, but this was changed to the more expensive option of turned columns thus adding an extra £7.10.0 to the woodwork quote and bringing the total cost of the timber framing to £42.10.0.  On top of this was the cost of signwriting- £24.7.6 – on the assumption that there were to be 300 or more names inscribed on the Honor Roll.  By comparison, the leadlight component was relatively inexpensive, a mere £21. 17.6.  It all added up to a grand total of £88.15.0 for the completed window.[3]   

Letters went back and forth between the architect, council and artist for some months, inevitably holding up the project, and it was not until Armistice Day 1920 that Montgomery received the full list of names from the Shire Secretary, James Hocking. Delays also drove up the price and the woodworker was asking an extra £24, insisting there was far more detail than originally quoted.  Montgomery asked Lucas to put the matter of the additional cost to council, as he considered ‘it would spoil the effect of a very fine piece of work to reduce the amount and quality of the carving…’.[4] With most design and technical problems solved, the timberwork was completed by February 1921, but the colour of the lettering  remained undecided; the Shire Secretary agreed with Montgomery’s recommendation to use gold lettering instead of white, and ultimately, this was approved.[5]

A small selection of the 325 names inscribed in gold leaf on the Shire of Wimmera Roll of Honor

Council invited Mr A S Rodgers, MHR to unveil the memorial but he was unavoidably detained, and   General Foott, CB, CMG, Deputy Adjutant-General, took his place on 2 December 1921.[6]  Despite poor weather, a large crowd gathered to hear speeches from Shire Presidents of Wimmera and surrounding shires, the Mayor of Horsham, the President of the Returned Soldiers and Sailors Imperial League of Australia (RSSILA), the Fathers’ Association and local clergy, before moving into the Council Chamber for the formal unveiling. The ceremonies concluded with a minute’s silent reflection and The Last Post.

As early as November 1915, the Shire Secretary was calling for relatives of servicemen to forward their names, which may give an idea of how the random collection of the 325 names who enlisted from the Shire was arrived at. It represents only a fraction of the men (and women) who, with many others, are listed in the comprehensive two volume publication, Strewth!…, compiled and edited by Gillian and John Francis on behalf of the Horsham Historical Society.[7]

The names of 320 men and five nursing sisters, roughly in alphabetical order, filled six columns on the wide timber: all 53 deaths were noted with a small gold asterisk next to the surname.  Not all Rolls of Honor included decorations, but at the Shire of Wimmera, they were recorded: Captain Thomas R Jagger MB BS, Military Cross; Private Thomas J Allen, Distinguished Conduct Medal; and Military Medals to Private Robert A E Carter who died of wounds in England; Corporal Frank S H Crafter, Gunner Eli J Ireland, Private John Matheson, Lance-Corporal Henry Leslie Pender and Lance-Bombadier John Dougald Wallace.[8]  

At  the Shire of Wimmera ceremony, the President of the Father’s Association acknowledged the pain felt by many mothers and fathers and noted that there could be no more fitting memorial to those men who went forth than ‘…a memorial that would last for all time…The window, being part of the building, would, except for an act of God, remain here for all time’.[9]  But he was not to know that more than half a century later the Firebrace Street building would be demolished.

The Borough of Horsham was also keen to see a lasting memorial to local servicemen, but it would take a different form.  In August 1918, aware that war’s end was in sight, the Mayor spoke to a large crowd that gathered to establish committees charged with the erection of  ‘a hall in memory of those who had fallen at the war, and which would also act as a club-room for those who were fortunate enough to return’.[10]  Fund-raising and collections began and by November 1919, the architect, W G Lucas, called for tenders and the contract secured by the builder, W E McGregor.[11]  Work proceeded slowly and it was not until 22 January 1921 that Brigadier-General Brand CB, CMG, DSO, laid the foundation stone of the ‘brick and tile’ building in McLachlan Street, to great ceremonial fanfare, attended by the President of the Victorian Branch of the RSSILA, Sergeant Martin, local dignitaries, parliamentarians and a large crowd of soldiers and Wimmera people.[12] The Federation-style Soldiers’ Memorial Hall opened just a month before the Roll of Honor was unveiled in the Shire of Wimmera Council Chamber.[13]

W G Lucas (architect), Returned and Services League of Australia, McLachlan Street, Horsham 2015. Note the old name – RSSILA – picked out in the pediments above the ‘Rising Sun’ dressings above the windows.

Many years later, the Roll of Honor and the Memorial Hall, now the Returned and Services League of Australia known generally as the ‘RSL’, would come together.  For the Roll of Honor to survive, it needed a new home: the leadlight was converted to a light box, still forming the centrepiece of the impressive Roll of Honor.  It’s history deserves to be better known beyond those who attend the RSL regularly, those who visit on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day each year and anyone with an interest in the military past of Horsham and the greater Wimmera district of Victoria.

This memorial, and all other Rolls of Honor, are more than a simple list of names. Every name on the list is shorthand for a personal story that reaches far beyond war service. Whether the serviceman (or woman) was killed in action, suffered injury or illness, or came home apparently unscathed, life changed irrevocably for them, their families and their friends they left in Australia and has impacted upon succeeding generations.[14]

[1] Horsham Times, 5 September 1916, p. 3; Age,3 April 1925, p. 7; 2 June 1925, p. 7.

[2] Horsham Times, 27 July 1920, p. 6.

[3] To give some idea of the cost in today’s terms, an average wage for a factory worker was less than £4.0.0 per week in the 1920s.  Lucas was invoiced for £126.7.6, which was paid on 4 August 1921.  Montgomery ledger, Montgomery Collection, State Library of Victoria (SLV).

[4] Montgomery letterbook 18 November 1920, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra ACT.

[5] Montgomery letterbook 4 February 1921, NGA ACT.

[6] Horsham Times, 25 November 1921, p. 4; 6 December 1921, p. 6. In 1925, Mr A S Rodgers unveiled the Haven School Honour Roll. Age, 3 April 1925, p. 7.

[7] Gillian and John Francis, project managers, researchers and editors, Strewth!: an insight into local involvement in World War One, Horsham Historical Society, Horsham, 2015.

[8] National Archives of Australia war service records.  Eli John Ireland is unconfirmed as the serviceman listed at Horsham.

[9] Horsham Times, 6 December 1921, p. 6.

[10] Ballarat Courier, 2 August 1918, p. 5.

[11] Horsham Times, 21 October 1919, p. 5.

[12] Horsham Times, 25 January 1921, p. 6.

[13] Ballarat Star, 25 October 1921, p. 6.

[14] With thanks to Helen Curkpatrick for her assistance in the preparation of this post.  Some stories may be added to this brief overview in time.