Albert Kempster
Justin Bede Fox.png

Our WWI Diggers

One of the ways the living seek to keep the memory of significant events, people and deeds alive is through the dedication of monuments. With the the passage of time, these events, people and deeds inevitably pass from living memory into history. In the process, they can become obscured by a little dust or even forgotten altogether despite the memorials. It was this realisation which inspired the writing of this book: to tell the stories of Pakenham’s WWI Diggers so they can continue living in the memory and imagination of our community for generations to come. In this regard, it is worth noting that of the 145 people honoured on our WWI memorials, seven have not yet been positively identified, while the connection between several others and Pakenham cannot be clearly established after the passage of a century. 

 

Amongst the 138 Diggers who have been positively identified are members of Pakenham’s oldest pioneering families, together with farm hands and members of police and railway families who never put down local roots. There are dairy farmers and orchardists; business proprietors and tradies; professionals and unskilled workers; Catholics and Protestants are both represented as are “native born” Australians and more recent migrants (mainly from Britain but also including a six foot tall Danish-born “viking”). Our WWI Diggers also include teenagers who raised their ages to enlist and and middle aged men who lowered theirs to do likewise; single men seeking the adventure of a lifetime and married men who left wives and children behind to worry about (and in some instances, mourn) them. Also amongst those who also “answered the call” were several sets of brothers; the first person from Pakenham to play in the VFL; veterans of the Boer War; the future presidents of two shires; the grandson of colonial Surveyor-General Robert Hoddle; the brother of Communist and pacifist Doris McRae; the great-uncle of Peter and Tim Costello; a leading military historian and even a pioneer of the British Royal Air Force. In their ranks was just one woman, who served with the Australian Army Nursing Service. Tragically, one in four were killed in action or died  from wounds or disease. This was a big price for a small community like Pakenham to pay for “King and Country”.   

 

Each Diggers’ story is told using a range of sources including their war service dossiers, Repatriation Commission case files, soldier-settler records, newspaper articles and (where possible), information and photographs provided by their relatives and descendants. Each story includes brief biographical details about the Digger, their war service, and which memorial(s) they are honoured on, together with (where available) information about their family connection with Pakenham, their personal experiences of the War and life afterwards. The degree of detail very much depends on the available sources and the limitations of time, resources and space have meant it has not been possible to explore each Digger’s life in depth. In this sense, these stories should be seen as a starting point which descendants, relatives and others can build upon. Unless it is directly relevant to understanding their military service, I have not referred to the more private aspects of the Diggers’ service, such as punishments for (usually minor) infractions of military discipline or the contracting of more personal kinds of diseases. To my mind, these are areas best left to the descendants and families to explore themselves if they wish to do so.  And while not all of the Anzacs were amenable to discipline (of either the military or personal varieties), as Brigadier - General Charles Brand said at the unveiling of the Pakenham & District War Memorial in 1921, “there was no better soldier in the front line” (PG 21/1/1921, p. 3). The picture which emerges from these stories collectively is of ordinary people who “did their bit” when called to serve their King and Country in extraordinarily terrible circumstances and conditions. When one considers what they experienced at Gallipoli, on the Western Front and elsewhere, you cannot but admire their courage, resilience and endurance; honour the sacrifices they all made; and be amazed that so many of them were able to settle back into ordinary civilian life after the War. This inevitably begs the question: if today we had to answer the same call, how would we match up, individually and collectively, with the Anzacs of a century ago? 

Patrick Ferry

Remembrance Day 

11 November 2018

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