Pakenham & District War Memorial (1921)

Pakenham & District Soldiers Memorial

Pakenham’s main WWI memorial is the Pakenham & District War Memorial, which is now located on the corner of John and Henry Streets outside the Pakenham Library and Public Hall. The erection of a memorial in Pakenham was first raised in late March 1919 at a public meeting held to plan celebrations to mark the eventual signing of a peace treaty with Germany. It had been suggested that any surplus funds left over from the celebrations should be donated to the Warragul Hospital, where most Pakenham patients were sent in those days. Philip Commons though, thought that any profit should be used to build a memorial to commemorate the coming of peace. He also hoped that there would be an “annual fixture to keep the great occasion of the termination of the War in perpetual remembrance”. The local doctor, Dr Douglas White, agreed that a “substantial and lasting” memorial should be erected, “something that our children and children’s children might look upon with pride”, and said he would support Mr Common’s suggestion if any surplus was large enough to fund something “worthy of the town and district”. Otherwise, Dr White thought any surplus should go to the hospital (PG 4/4/1919, p. 3). The peace celebrations held in early July only made a £20 profit, which was duly donated to Warragul Hospital (PG 8/8/1919 p. 2). 

The RSSILA proposes an Anzac Memorial Hall

Meanwhile, the newly established Pakenham RSSILA sub-branch had suggested that an “Anzac Memorial Hall” be built (PG 25/4/1919, p.2). At the time, the League was advocating the building of such halls across Australia and had a nation-wide fund-raising effort under way. The idea was that these local halls would house local rolls of honour and serve as club rooms where League members could meet. The club rooms were not simply conceived as a space where the business of the local sub-branch could be transacted. Instead, they were intended to provide a space where the League could “take the returned men as they came back. This would keep them away from temptation and help them pick up the threads of their old life - the life before the war - again. They would be able to meet those who knew something of what they were passing through and would help them” (PG 95/1919 p. 3). This was an early recognition that many of those who had survived the War were deeply scarred by their experiences and needed social support and camaraderie to get through it. As the local RSSILA Secretary Fred Hower put it: “some of the men were not the same as when they went away, and it was necessary to win them back to their old life” (PG 2/5/1919, p. 3). Although ahead of its time in terms of understanding the type of ongoing support the returning soldiers required, there was little support for the concept in Pakenham. Attendances at the public meetings called to discuss it were low and many of those who did attend raised objections to the proposal. Local real estate agent Harold Hogan thought that Pakenham did not need another hall as it already had two. For the same reason, Arthur Greenwood, James Ahern and others thought it would be difficult to raise the estimated £400-500 needed to build memorial hall (PG 2/5/1919 p. 3 & 9/5/1919 p. 3). There was also some concern that the proposal was being advanced before most of the Pakenham Diggers had returned and could have their say about what was needed. In this was a certain undercurrent of parochialism; a sense that the proposal was being driven by “outside authorities” (i.e. the RSSILA) and not by the local community itself. It had also been said that many of the returned soldiers in the district were actually “strangers and not their own [i.e Pakenham] men”. Fred Hower, who himself was a soldier-settler from elsewhere in Victoria, argued strongly though that all returned soldiers had “won their right of citizenship on the battlefield and could lay claim to be citizens of any town in Australia” (PG 9/5/1919 p.3). Another concern was that the proposed hall was to be “practically for the members of the Soldiers’ League“ when not all the returned soldiers were actually members (PG 16/5/1919 p. 3 & 12/9/1916 p.3). Some at the meetings, like Henry Sutton and Ted Cook (himself one of the Pakenham Diggers), favoured the erection of a more permanent memorial which (unlike a hall) would “practically stand for all time” (PG 16/5/1919 p. 3). 

The Berwick Shire Clerk, James Ahern advanced a compromise whereby funds raised by the League would be used to add the proposed club rooms to the existing public hall. This had some support, including from Alfred Hillman, a local veteran of the Boer War, who agreed that something should be done to “help the soldiers in their endeavours to win their comrades back to their old life. He had been a soldier in South Africa and knew something of the battle a man had to fight when he had to put off his uniform and take up his old duties” (PG 9/5/1919 p.3). Even this floundered though, when RSSILA headquarters insisted that any funds raised in Pakenham as part of the nation-wide appeal could only be used “for the benefit of the soldiers and not the general public” and must be vested in trustees representing the League. The RSSILA agreed though, that if the funds raised were insufficient to build a hall, then they could be used for another type of memorial (PG 16/5/1919 p. 3).

A monument not a hall

Eventually, it was decided to proceed with the erection of a monument rather than a memorial hall. A public committee was formed in June 1919 to further develop the concept and raise the required funds. This committee was chaired by Cr Bill Stephenson, with Henry Sutton as Secretary and Charles Lawrie as Treasurer (PG 13/6/1919 p 3). Even then, there were those who thought there was no need to rush into building a memorial straight away, citing the fact that many Boer War memorials were erected three of four years after that conflict ended (PG 16/5/1919 p. 3). it is interesting to note though, that no Boer War memorial was ever erected in Pakenham! Henry Sutton suggested that “a granite monument be erected on the reserve near the railway gates, with a brass tablet bearing the names of all the solders” (PG 16/5/1919 p. 3). At another meeting held in September, this concept began to take definite shape, with Constable Stephen Maher proposing a small park be laid out with the memorial in the centre. He said that “if nicely planted the park would be a beauty spot in the town. No other memorial would be more suitable and lasting”. This was supported by the meeting. Arthur Greenwood proposed the stone be left roughly hewn and not dressed or polished so as to look “bold and imposing and also picturesque”; a monument “worthy of the district” and while there was also support for using granite which could be sourced locally from “Caversham” at Pakenham Upper, this ultimately did not prove suitable. It was also agreed that the memorial would be a district one, including Pakenham Upper and Pakenham South. And unlike the war memorials in many towns, Pakenham’s would bear the names of all those who served, not just the fallen. There was something very egalitarian in that decision.


As for the location, it was agreed that the best available site in town was on the railway reservation, near the Mechanics’ Institute and what was known locally as “Lover’s Walk” (PG12/9/1919 p.3). Securing this site though, proved challenging. Initially, the Railways Department refused to release the land (PG 8/8/1919 p. 2) and then proposed unacceptable terms. After some lobbying from the Berwick Shire and local parliamentarians, the Railway Commissioners finally agreed to lease the site to the Shire for a peppercorn rental. The Shire was prepared to accept the lease so long as the residents themselves undertook the landscaping, fencing and on going maintenance required under the lease (PG 30/1/1920 p. 3). Shire Secretary James Ahern suggested that as part of the landscaping, an avenue of honour be planted along Main Street, with each tree bearing the name of a soldier (PG 30/1/1920 p.3). This though, never eventuated. Had the Railway Reserve not been unavailable, the alternative site identified for the memorial was the Recreation Reserve, near where it stands today (PG 12/9/1919 p. 3).

Community Fund raising 

Collectors were appointed to raise money for the memorial, including Misses M & K Dore, Alice Greenwood and Levina Henry for Pakenham East; Marion Ciceley O’Shannassy and Mrs Arthur Anderson for Old Pakenham; Janet Ramage for Pakenham Upper; Mrs Moody for the Toomuc Valley; Miss Keable for Army Road and Henrietta Little and Miss Scott for Pakenham South (PG 30/1/1920 p.3). Individual donations ranged from a sizeable £35.3s.3d donated by John Henry, down to small donations of a couple of shillings each. Charles Smale’s donation of £1.14s.0d was listed as being from the “sale of sheep”! (PG 26/3/1920 p. 3). Individual subscriptions were supplemented with funds raised through various events, including a concert and dance at the Mechanics‘ Institute; a special auction of goods at the Pakenham Auction Mart and an Anzac Day picnic race meeting held at what was still described as “Mr D.J. Bourke’s Racecourse” (PG 23/4/1920 p. 2). At the races, the refreshments stall manned by local ladies raised £24, plus a donation of 10s 6d from Mrs Kempster, who had lost her son Albert during the War (PG 30/4/1920 p. 3). By June 1920, over £270 had been raised for the memorial, with the prospect of another £300 (SBMJ 10/6/1920 p. 2).


The Design

With a  significant amount of money raised, a design was finalised in July 1920, based on the Longwarry War Memorial: a granite obelisk standing on a raised base. A contract was placed with Messrs Corbett and Sons to erect the memorial for £250 (SBMJ 8/7/1920, p. 3).

Names to be included

A list of names to be included on the “Soldiers’ Memorial” was published in the Pakenham Gazette in late October 1920. This covered Pakenham (including  names from Pakenham East, Old Pakenham and Toomuc Valley), Pakenham South (including some names more associated with Koo Wee Rup), and Pakenham Upper (including names from Gembrook West, now Mount Burnett) (PG 29/10/1920 p. 3). Additional names were added after the list was published (PG 5/11/1920 p.3). The final list contained the names of 101 individuals, including 25 who “made the supreme sacrifice” (PG 21/1/1921 p. 3). The approach to the inclusion of names may have been similar to that taken for the issuing of gold medallions at the “welcome home” socials: the soldier either had to have been living in Pakenham when they enlisted or otherwise “directly interested in the place” - i.e. “natives of Pakenham” who had enlisted elsewhere but still had relatives in the district (PG 10/5/1918, p. 3). The latter would explain why George Hebden Raleigh’s name was included on the Soldiers’ Memorial, even though he had been serving overseas with the British Army for many years. It also accounts for why Jack and Murdock MacDonald were included: although they were living elsewhere in Gippsland when they enlisted, their parents had settled in Pakenham during the War. Despite the best endeavours of the Committee, the list of names finally agreed upon was an incomplete one. The names of some people who had enlisted locally never made it onto the memorial, perhaps because they ultimately did not return to the district after the War. There is also anecdotal evidence that some soldiers who returned did not want their names included on the memorial for various reasons. Conversely, the connection between a few of the names and Pakenham remains unclear.

Unveiling - 15 January 1921

The Pakenham & District “Soldiers’ Memorial” was unveiled on 15 January 1921 by the Commandant of the Third Military District (Victoria), Brigadier-General Charles Brand. The ceremony was chaired by the Shire President, Councillor Pearson and attended by 300 to 400 people, including returned soldiers, their relatives and friends. General Brand said he was performing such ceremonies twice a week, which was a pleasure as it enabled him to “honour the brave men”. He went on to say that in his view, the Anzacs were “brave and generous men” who had “few equals and no superiors”. General Brand said that “AIF” stood not only for “Australian Imperial Force”, but also “Admired in France”, “Always in Front“ and “A1 Fighters”. Although some said the Anzacs had not been “amenable to discipline”, General Brand said there had been no better soldiers in the front line. He also offered his deepest sympathy to the relatives of those who had fallen. General Brand believed that “deep down in their hearts was a feeling of pride that they had given their best. “Greater love hath no man than this, that he give his life for his friend” (PG 21/1/1921 p. 3). A flag was removed to unveil the memorial while a bugler played the “Last Post”. Placed near the Soldiers’ Memorial was a German Maxim light machine gun, which had been presented to the people of Pakenham as a war trophy. The gun had been captured by the 58th Battalion on 25 April 1918 at Villers-Bretonneux (AWM262, 1/2], an attack which General Brand described as a “brilliant one and ... practically the turning point” in the War. What subsequently happened to the machine gun though, is not known. Following the ceremony, an afternoon tea was provided at the Mechanics‘ Institute, catered for by local ladies (PG 21/1/1921 p. 3). That the memorial was originally known as the “Soldiers’ Memorial” rather than “war memorial”, signified that it was a tribute “to the memory of our comrades who have gone before us” rather than a monument to the War itself (PG 30/4/1965, p. 5). 


Anzac Day ceremonies 

The Pakenham & District Soldiers’ Memorial was subsequently the focal point of local Anzac Day ceremonies. During the 1920s, these typically involved not just returned soldiers, but also students from Pakenham State School and St Patrick’s Catholic School, together with local scouts and residents. The 1929 service for example, opened with the hymn “O God our Help in Past Ages” followed by a prayer for the Empire led by the Rev. E.J. Dodd, the local Church of England rector. Amongst the speeches was one given by Jack Ellett, who “vividly described the landing of troops at Gallipoli”. This was followed by Rudyard Kipling’s “Recessional” and an address by the Reverend Dodd. The names of the fallen were then read out by boy scout Esca (“Hec”) Treloar (an uncle of Graham Treloar), followed by the Prayer of Commemoration. The “Last Post” was then played by Harry Ellett, followed by the Benediction and “God Save the King”. Wreathes were placed at the base of the Memorial (PG 28/4/1929, p. 3). 

No one's responsibility

It took some years though, for the proposed landscaping to be completed. The matter was raised by the Pakenham Citizens’ Association in 1923, but nothing seems to have happened as a result (PG 10/8/1923 p. 3). The problem was said to have been lack of water at the site, but the Pakenham correspondent for the Dandenong Journal thought it pointed to a deeper issue: “Pakenham is well worthy the name of “Sleepy Hollow”, and the small amount of interest taken in all public matters is deplorable ... The writer has never known a place where the lack of public interest has been so marked. We have a soldiers’ memorial, which at the present time is a disgrace. Residents should wake up and show some interest in this monument to our fallen heroes. The cry always has been ‘We can’t do anything to make these grounds beautiful without water’. Now we have the water, but still no effort is being made” (DJ 9/2/1928, p. 4). With the laying of water pipes in town, a working bee had water added to the memorial site, then began to plan for landscaping. There was still funds in the bank held to the credit of the Memorial Committee and the task was assigned to Mr F. Kennedy, who was said would “do it  justice” (DJ 23/8/1929 p. 4). Efforts were also being made to get permission from the Railway Commissioners to plant the remainder of the railway reserve with ornamental trees and shrubs (DJ 9/5/1929, p. 4). After the 1931 Anzac Day ceremonies, the Pakenham Gazette commented that the “Soldiers’ Park” had an “improved appearance ... new lawns and a few flower beds bright with annuals gave the park a ‘cared for’ appearance which it previously lacked” (PG 1/5/1931, p. 3). The memorial though, soon fell into neglect again. The real problem seems to have been this: while erection of the memorial had been a community initiative, there were no permanent arrangements in place for the ongoing maintenance and upkeep of the site. The original committee had long since ceased to operate, as had the local RSSILA sub-branch, while the Shire does not seem to have seen the memorial as its responsibility either. Eventually, in 1933, the local Scouts arranged a working bee to work on the lawns and flowerbeds. The Shire Council donated plants and assigned men receiving sustenance payments to work on the memorial gardens. These were to be tended afterwards by the Scouts (DJ 27/7/1933, p. 4). This arrangement though, does not seem to have lasted either and by the early 1940s, the memorial site was again being described as “neglected and forgotten”. The newly re-established Pakenham sub-branch of the RSSILA complained that the Memorial’s condition “offers little  encouragement to the men of today to come forward and offer their services to their country. We should remember the fallen always, and the memorial should be kept in a manner fitting to the dead”, while it was even reported that the site was being used for drinking parties and as a “parking place” for couples returning from dances. The RSSILA urged the Shire to remove the memorial to a more fitting site (DJ 21/5/1941 p. 4). Cr Michael Bourke personally paid to have the site cleaned up. When the matter came before Council, some councillors thought any relocation should wait until after the War ended, but Cr Greaves thought there was no point “maintaining it as just a sort of beer garden”. While a resolution was passed authorising Council to relocate the memorial, this was rescinded when it was pointed out that the Shire could not act without giving the public a say. It was agreed though, that the Council would maintain the memorial, with the costs being shared between the Pakenham and Iona Ridings (Ibid). 

Despite the state of the memorial, it was the scene of impressive Anzac Day ceremonies during WWII. The local Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC) unit would lead the march from the Recreation Reserve to the Mechanics’ Institute with the salute taking place at or opposite the Memorial and the actual service being held indoors if need be. The 1942 Anzac Day ceremony was described as the  “most impressive” one seen in Pakenham to date. Upwards of 250 people took part in a march through the town, starting at the Recreation Reserve. The procession included men from the VDC detachments in Pakenham, Koo Wee Rup and Garfield as well as members of the Pakenham Fire Brigade, Girl Guides and local school students. Brigadier-General Cecil Foott took the salute opposite the Soldiers’ Memorial with a guard of honour formed by the VDC, many of whom were WWI veterans and hence named on the memorial itself. (PG 1/5/1942, p. 1).

Honouring those who served during WWII 

Following WWII, consideration was given as to how best to honour the men and women who had served in that conflict. A range of options was canvassed, including a more “utilitarian” memorial hall (PG 13/6/1947 p. 1) and the endowing of a bed at the Pakenham Bush Hospital (PG 8/11/1946 p.1). In terms of the existing Memorial itself, the consensus was that it should be enlarged to include the WWII names and relocated to a more suitable location. There was no agreement however, on the more suitable site. The RSL favoured a low maintenance triangle of land on the other side of the railway tracks at the intersection of Main St, Henty St and Bald Hill Rd. This was near where the RSL proposed to erect their club rooms. Berwick Shire meanwhile, preferred relocating the Memorial to the centre of the new park they were laying out adjacent to the railway station (now known as Bourke Park). Relocating the Memorial to the entrance to town from the Highway (near St James’ Church) was also canvassed. A public meeting held in June 1947 agreed on the Shire’s preferred location in the centre of Bourke Park (PG 13/6/1947 p. 1) but this proved impossible because of conditions imposed by the Railways Department, while the RSL still favoured its preferred site. After this, it was resolved to keep the Memorial on its existing site, which was adjacent to the new Bourke Park anyway (PG 30/1/1948). There was still some further discussion and wrangling about preferred locations, but with everyone getting “tired of discussing sites” (DJ 26/5/1948 p. 11), the Memorial stayed put. It was subsequently enlarged by adding to the base a large block of granite bearing the names of the WWII service men and women, although it seems that the names of those who served from Pakenham Upper were never added.   

Relocation to Recreation Reserve

The question of relocating the Memorial rested until the early 1960s. It was then taken up by the Pakenham Progress Association, which suggested a location at the Recreation Reserve, near the Public Hall. The Association argued that the Memorial would be more visible there as the existing site was now obscured from the Main St end. Furthermore, the old Mechanics’ Institute, which had been used for parts of the Anzac Day services, had closed in the late 1950s. The RSL supported this proposal, but the issue of who was actually responsible for the Memorial (and hence able to make a decision) again became an issue as the Memorial Committee had fallen into abeyance back in 1949! (PG 15/2/1963 p. 1 & 27/9/1963, p.11). In order to overcome this, a public meeting was held to consider sites. A number of options were considered, including a triangle of land in front of the Public Hall on the corner of Henry and James Streets (the favoured option); on the lawns to the west of the public hall; and in front of the RSL club rooms (PG 14/6/1963 p. 1 & 27/9/1963 p. 11). The decision was ultimately vested in a new committee, consisting of Les Futcher, Llew Isaac (RSL President), Ron Chambers  (Berwick Shire Engineer), Bill Smith and Bruce Vary. Their preferred site was the triangle of land in front of the Public Hall. This was then formally assessed by the Shire Engineer, who concluded the site was excellent in terms of aspect, suitable in terms of parking and did not interfere with utilities. The only real concern was the possibility that the memorial might create something of a traffic blindspot (PG 17/1/1964, p. 8). With agreement on a new site, the memorial was relocated to the new site in time for Anzac Day 1964 (PG 1/5/1964, p. 1). 



The memorial was restored as part of the redevelopment of the Pakenham Public Hall and Library in the 2010s. Since then, the Pakenham RSL has dedicated a number of plaques nearby commemorating the service of Australians in subsequent conflicts, including Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Plaques were also unveiled on Remembrance Day 2018 to commemorate local soldiers from the Boer War as well as WWII service personnel (including from Pakenham Upper) whose names do not originally appear on the memorial itself.