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 World War I.
Not one was “called up” as Australia had no laws to require young men to risk their lives in the service of their country.
Wingham and the Upper Manning with a population of about 2000 contributed 232 men to the war. There are no women listed on the Honour Roll.
They ranged in age from 15 to 56 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 shell shock 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 recognise 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 criticising the returned men for being drunks when they had a few drinks with their mates.
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.
Wingham’s people recognised the debt they owed to those who had served. After the war they 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.