Anzac: Our district goes to war

Anyone who looks at the Honour Roll at Wingham’s Memorial Town Hall cannot but be humbled at the numbers of local men who volunteered to serve their country in the first World War. Not one was “called up” as Australia had no laws to require young men to risk their lives in the service of their country. In fact at two referenda held to see if Australia would introduce compulsory service the people voted “No”.

Wingham and the Upper Manning with a population of about 5000  contributed 232 men to the war. There are no women listed on the Honour Roll. They ranged in age from fifteen to fifty six years at the time of their enlistment and included two schoolboys and several married men with children. Thirty nine died serving their country, many more were wounded, several more than once. Most suffered damage from shellshock and battle trauma.

The community was affected in many ways which were not always noticed at the time. The impact was often concealed from people outside the damaged soldiers` immediate circle. Sometimes, the wider community did not really recognize who had been affected, because not everyone had someone who went to the War. The need for men to be able to communicate with others who had experienced the same trauma led to the formation of the Returned Services League of Australia with Sub Branches across the nation. This also led to people criticizing the returned men for being drunks when they had a few drinks with their mates.  It also led to the exclusion of those who didn’t, and couldn’t, talk the same language.

The widows of dead soldiers were a special case. A grateful Federal government which had sent them to war did not want to encourage them to be burdens on the community. So it enacted legislation to reduce the widows` pension to soldiers` widows on the grounds that they were young enough to find new husbands, forgetting that 60.000 husbands and potential husbands had died in the war.

One of my early memories as a child going to ANZAC ceremonies was the number of middle aged spinster women, the forgotten casualties.

Their intended husbands had been killed.

Wingham’s people recognised the debt they owed to those who had served. After they war set about raising the money to build a memorial that would ensure that they were never forgotten. That debt will be remembered again this year when the town gathers for the ANZAC memorial services.

We Do Remember Them.

Lt Col. [Rtd.] Eric Richardson OAM

Anzac Day in Wingham - click here

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