Fremantle Stuff > FHS > Fremantle Studies > 9 > Pearson

For the touch of a vanished hand

Alan Pearson

Pearson, Alan 2017, 'For the touch of a vanished hand', Fremantle Studies, 9: 107-136.

Alan Pearson is a graduate of the Royal Military College of Australia and the University of New South Wales. He was a professional army officer for over 30 years, and consulted to the Department of Defence for a further ten years. His background is in logistics, specialising in ammunition and explosive devices. He is researching for a book on the St Paul’s Church Honour Board and the men named upon it. This paper draws on some of that research.

Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.

O, well for the fisherman’s boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay!

And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanished hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break,
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me. 1

There is an obvious parallel between Alfred Lord Tennyson’s reference to the sights and sounds of a Working port in expressing his feelings of loss and melancholy at the death of a friend whilst those around him are going about their normal business or enjoying themselves, and the similar emotions felt by the bereaved of Fremantle during and after World War I.


Image 1: Honour Board on southern wall of St Paul’s Church, 1 December 2010 (Alan Pearson).

However it is the final two lines of the third stanza that became for many the best words to express their grief and strong desire for remembrance. Even today these words are often employed by people grieving the loss of a family member, friend or colleague.

Of the more than 850 men from Fremantle who served overseas with the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) and died during World War I, over 80 are remembered by name on an Honour Board in the St. Paul’s Church, Beaconsfield. The Honour Board served as a means to recognise the contribution made by local men, and as a focus for the grief experienced by the families, friends and former comrades of deceased soldiers. This is an intimate form of commemoration, one able to be visited regularly by the bereaved. With the passage of time personal details about the men became distant, and then beyond living memory.

When St Paul’s was preparing to celebrate its centenary the church historian started to research details of the men’s military service. 2 At about this time my interest was piqued and I became determined to find out as much as possible about each of the men named on the Honour Board. It has been possible to reconstruct a great deal; to bring the names to life, to give the men a military history, and to see how they were grieved and remembered by their families - a story of service, courage and perseverance on one hand; and of pride, grief, and enduring sadness on the other. The quest to research the men named on the Honour Board revealed other ways and places in which the men are commemorated, including what for many families was the most enduring form of commemoration of all, newspaper In Memoriam notices.

St Paul's Church Beaconsfield

The church is located on Hampton Road along the boundary between South Fremantle and Beaconsfield. It is a stone Gothic Revival building where the gothic architectural elements of the exterior are starkly contrasted by the simplicity of the unadorned interior. What therefore stands out inside the church is the brooding presence of the World War I Honour Board that dominates the south wall.

The church foundation stone was laid in 1905 by the Governor of Western Australia, Admiral Sir Frederick Bedford. The building, with accommodation for 318 worshippers, was consecrated in 1906 after the expenditure of £1500. 3 However the church was far from complete; neither the west nor the east ends of the church were finished, with temporary entrances, sanctuary and vestry. There wasn’t even a Font. Fund raising was initiated immediately and by 1914 a Font (by the Fremantle sculptor Pietro Porcelli) was acquired, and the front porches were completed - at a combined cost of £430. 4

The church and neighbouring church hall were focal points for community life. A Gymnasium Club was formed in 1905. A Cricket Club was formed in 1910, and numerous other sporting teams carried the St. Paul’s Church name. A number of the men named on the Honour Board were active members of the Gymnasium Club. The rector from 1911 until 1932 was the Reverend Frederick Bowen. He was an immensely popular minister and a pillar of the local community. The extensive St. Paul’s Church parish included some of the most densely populated suburbs around Fremantle, and probably the entire state. As a port, Fremantle was where most families had arrived in Western Australia, and the suburbs around it were where many stayed. Even those families who moved away over time seemed to leave behind family members or otherwise retain a Fremantle link. In 1914 the average attendance at church on Sundays was around 300 - near full capacity for the building - and Sunday school attracted about 280 children. 5 The nearby Beaconsfield State School had the largest number of pupils of any state school in Western Australia. With a high local population density and a tendency towards large families the church was in near constant use for weddings, christenings and funerals.

Pre-war grief and remembrance

High rates of infant mortality, generally shorter life spans, industrial accidents, illnesses and a surprising number of accidents involving children ensured that most families had experienced grief and also that an etiquette had developed for public grief and remembrance. The families of the men named on the church Honour Board are no exception; the examples below are drawn from their families’ experiences; many more examples were available.

Upon the death of a family member it was usual practice to place a death notice in one of the newspapers, most commonly, the West Australian. From 1902 until 1950 the Family Notices page of the West Australian containing Births, Marriages, significant anniversaries, Deaths, In Memoriam notices, Funeral notices, and Bereavement notices, was on the most prominent page, page one.

Family Notices
Births, Marriages, and Deaths.
HALE -- On March 2, at her home, 37 Attfield-street, Beaconsfield, Mary Ann (May), the dearly-loved wife of William H. Hale, after a very long illness.
At rest. 6

The Death notice was followed by a Funeral notice, often on the same day as the death notice. The newspaper was the principal social media of the day, and the convention of emphasising information by ‘shouting particular words in capital letters was universally practiced in Funeral notices (and widely practiced in Bereavement notices).

Family Notices
Funeral Notices.
ULRICH The remains of the late Mr. Joseph Victor Ulrich (late member United Friendly Societies’ Medical Association, Fremantle) will leave his late residence, 82 Mary-street, Fremantle, for interment in the Anglican portion of the Fremantle Cemetery THIS (Wednesday) AFTERNOON, at 3.30 o’clock.
Donald Chipper, Funeral Directors, Adelaide-st., Fremantle. 7

After the funeral an obituary was often published for long term residents of the state, often referred to as ‘old colonists.’ A Bereavement notice was placed in a newspaper several days after the funeral, in order to (shout) thanks from the bereaved to those from whom they had received sympathy.

Family Notices
THANKS - Mrs. Lennon and family wish to THANK their many kind friends for telegrams, wreaths, floral tributes, and messages of sympathy in their recent sad bereavement. 8

Some months after the death, and in cases where an estate was involved, the probate or letter of administration detail, including the name of the executor and value of the estate, was released to the newspapers. This information was often published by several newspapers, usually in a ‘news and notes’ column within the body of the newspaper.

News and Notes
Probates and Administrations.- The following probates and letters of administration were granted by the Supreme Court during last week:-
Mary Ann Hale, late of Fremantle, married woman, to Richard Hicks, £334. 9

The final public element was for many families the most significant. Usually on the anniversary of the death of a loved one an In Memoriam notice was placed in a newspaper. A similar notice would then be placed annually, sometimes for several successive years. The In Memoriam notices were characterised by un-original poetry, where the family struggled to find the words to best express their continuing raw emotions.

Family Notices
In Memoriam.
COMBEN - In sad and loving memory of our darling baby, Gladys Rose, who died at 55 King-street, E. Fremantle, on January 19, 1912, aged 13 months.
Once we had a little treasure,
Full of sweetness, full of love,
But the angels came and took her
To their heavenly home above.
She suffered much, but murmured not,
We watched her night and day,
With aching hearts, grow worse and worse,
Until she passed away.
Inserted by her loving parents, Charles and Clara Comben. 10

World War 1

The declaration of war against Germany in August 1914 was greeted with a great deal of patriotism in Fremantle, which translated into a desire to enlist into the expeditionary forces. This was hardly surprising as 19% of the Western Australian population between the ages of 15 to 44 years was born in the UK. 11 A quarter of the men named on the Honour Board enlisted into the 1st AIF to fight for ‘King and Country’ before the end of 1914. Their families shared their patriotism and some expressed their pride in their sons who had enlisted, embarked or written to them by providing details and images of their sons in uniform for inclusion in the newspapers. Undoubtedly families felt concern for their sons when they embarked from Fremantle in November 1914 (and later embarkations). That concern remained for most but changed to grief for many who lost sons at Gallipoli and later campaigns. The full extent of the casualties at Gallipoli was revealed to all as the casualty lists were published in the newspapers in full. It was some time before the newspapers changed their approach and only published the names of men who enlisted from Western Australia, and those with local next of kin. The true horror was hidden from direct View as many men were listed as ‘missing’- a classification that was only changed (mostly to killed in action 25 April 1915) in April 1916 after the Australians had been evacuated from Gallipoli and moved to the Western Front.

There were precedents for grief and commemoration available to the bereaved families. In 1902, just a year after the end of the Anglo-Boer War the Western Australian memorial to that conflict had been dedicated at Kings Park. Almost as soon as the new war had started thoughts turned to how to commemorate it and the men serving in it.

The Honour Board

World War I dramatically affected the local community and church, leading to a re-ordering of priorities for church projects and expenditure. The large number of bereaved contributed to a demand for some form of remembrance for the soldiers of the 1st AIF. The subject was never controversial; there was general agreement early in the war that some form of memorial would be developed within the church. The subject was deferred for the duration of the war in accordance with WA War Council advice concerning memorials with a cost greater than £20. 12

The church returned to the subject of a memorial in February 1919, immediately after the fighting had stopped. 13 The result was an ambitious plan presented by Reverend Bowen aimed at the final completion of the west end, and the incorporation of two sets of marble pillars into a scheme to complete the east end. One set of marble pillars would carry the names of local men who had served in the war, while the second set would contain the names of the ‘fallen.’ A fund-raising committee, the Sailors, Soldiers and Nurses Memorial Sanctuary Fund, was created and by the start of May 1919 a total of £80 had been raised. 14 Fund-raising mainly consisted of door-knocking by collectors who were most usually female parishioners, including a number of mothers and sisters of soldiers who had served. In addition many letters were sent to Fremantle businesses. The fund-raising climate was difficult, and the collectors were in direct competition with other charities supporting ex-soldiers and their families, as well as other commemoration schemes such as the Avenues of Honour in Kings Park initiated in 1919 and extended in 1920.

By May 1921, when a total of £160 had been raised it became apparent that a much more modest solution to the completion of the church and the commemoration of local soldiers would be all that was possible. 15 Little money had been raised after May 1920. In May 1921 the church architect (Mr Herbert Eales of Adelaide Street Fremantle) suggested the current form of Honour Board (approximate cost £50) and the completion of the west end. There was insufficient money for the marble pillars and the completion of the east end could not be contemplated/The Honour Board therefore contributed to a long term impact on church fund-raising that delayed the ultimate completion of the church east end by 90 years.


Image 2. Detail of the Honour Board showing two panels, the central cross, a dedication panel, and several of the painted shields of state crests and unit colour patches, 22 May 2015. (Peter Humphris, St Paul’s Church, Beaconsfield).

The Honour Board, listing 89 names of local men who were killed or died during the War, was erected in September 1921, and dedicated by the Archbishop of Perth a month later. 16 Over 200 parishioners were present at the dedication. The Honour Board is a substantial piece of construction in jarrah, with brass panels and cross, a dedication panel, and carved flowers and crosses as highlights. It is patently military and Christian, shaped as a crenelated fortress wall, with a central brass cross. Painted shields with state crests and unit colour patches signify the national effort and the units with a significant or predominant Western Australian recruitment. The names are on four brass panels, in complex font, highlighted in vermillion and cobalt. Clearly a great deal of time and effort went into the design and construction of the Honour Board. The final cost was £80, a substantial sum for a church in 1921. 17

From the same funding the west end of the church, the Baptistry, constructed as a Gallipoli Memorial and including three stained glass windows, was completed over the period 1921 to 1924.

The men

The only relevant church records of the period relate to fund-raising for the Sailors, Soldiers and Nurses Memorial Sanctuary Fund. Reverend Bowen exclusively dealt with the architect, and he appears to have been the final arbiter on which names were to be included on the Honour Board. There were no published criteria either for inclusion, or for exclusion. Fundraisers were advised they should make no promises in this respect. As well as no published criteria there is no interim or final list of names of men for inclusion on the Honour Board.

Some assumptions seemed implicit. As the denomination of St Paul’s is Church of England it was expected that the men would all share that denomination. It was also expected that all would be from the St Paul’s parish, and it hardly seemed necessary to question that all enlisted in Western Australia and that they were Australian. Given the time and effort that went into the board it seemed logical to assume that a commensurate amount of effort would have been expended to ensure that all names were accurately recorded (and in alphabetical order). The 89 names as displayed on the four brass panels are:



In checking Australian War Memorial (AWM), National Archives of Australia (NAA) and Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) websites (as well as other references), it became apparent that there were a number of errors and oversights made amongst the names on the Honour Board. It was clear that records and record keeping during and immediately after the war was not up to modern expectations. Although a number of names were out of alphabetical order there were other more significant errors and oversights affecting 16 of the men. The errors mostly were simple mis-spelled names. However one man was listed twice (as Thomas Richards, and again as Thomas Brittain - which covers his full name of Thomas Richard Brittain), several mis-spelled names required an amount of detective work to clarify (such as Edward Western instead of Joseph Weston), and one man (Fred Neive) did not exist in any data base at all. Concerted research ascertained the most likely individual to be James Frederick Eade. Two men did not exist in any Australian databases or official records (Walter Rowson and Harold Tombleson), as they were members of the army of Great Britain.

Below is a listing of the (revised down from the original 89) 88 men as they would appear on the brass panels after corrections and interpretations have been made:



The subject of religious denomination proved to be interesting with some unexpected results. It came as some surprise that 16 of the men (17%) were not Church of England. This number is unexpectedly high for a Church of England church, however the result is still very much skewed - the results for the non-Church of England group is at least half of that expected for Western Australian males above 20 years of age. 18 The denominations of the non-Church of England men are:

Methodist - five
Presbyterian - three
Roman Catholic - three
Congregational - two
Church of Christ - one
Lutheran - one
Baptist - one

Several men identified their religious affiliation as Church of England even though most other family members identified with a different denomination. This may have been a consequence of the men following Church of England tenets, not having a strong religious conviction, or them nominating a denomination of convenience to fit in with the majority and avoid the possibility of undue attention. During the War religious affiliation figured prominently in the divisive conscription campaigns of 1916 and 1917. So soon after the War the religious affiliation of a deceased soldier was insufficient reason for exclusion from the Honour Board list by Reverend Bowen. Indeed it can be seen as both characteristic inclusiveness of the St Paul’s parish and an indicator that the need for remembrance throughout the entire community outweighed all differences in religion. It seemed logical that all men named on the Honour Board would have been resident, or at least raised, within the St Paul’s parish. 19 The St Paul’s parish extended from the suburbs of South Fremantle and Beaconsfield south as far as Rockingham, and included White Gum Valley, Hamilton Hill, Spearwood and Coogee. However parishioners also came from Fremantle, East Fremantle and North Fremantle. At the time the men enlisted into the 1st AIF almost 66% of the men (55) resided in the Fremantle area and the St Paul’s parish, while the remaining 33 men lived in other suburbs, country areas and England (who never visited Australia at all). In most cases where men lived outside the Fremantle area at the time of enlistment, a family member was resident. Several next of kin were resident overseas, mostly in England. At least three next of kin moved to the Fremantle area during the war or in the immediate post war period. In cases where there is no obvious next of kin or relative in the Fremantle area it must be concluded that some names were suggested to Reverend Bowen by former comrades or the family of former comrades. The end result is that the men named on the Honour Board come from a more broad catchment area than just the parish or Fremantle area. It also means that the Honour Board list is not just a sub-set of the 85 3 names emplaced on the Fremantle War Memorial on 25 April 2015.

A total of 62 of the men (70%) were born in Australia. Of that number, 38 (43%) were born in Western Australia, with 24 born in other Australian states. 20 A total of 22 men (25%) were born in England. This figure is only slightly higher than the figure for the Western Australian population born in the UK. The countries of Canada, South Africa and New Zealand are represented by one man each. One man was born in Denmark (Peter Johannesen). He was the only man required to complete the naturalisation process prior to enlistment. All but two of the men (Rowson and Tombleson) enlisted into the 1st AIF in Western Australia. Rowson and Tombleson were British soldiers whose names were suggested by their aunt, Mrs Conway, whose three sons served and survived. From a distance of 90 years it is not possible to establish if Reverend Bowen was prevailed upon to include the two British soldiers or if the general need for remembrance was a greater influence on him.

The errors and oversights in the listing of the men on the Honour Board, the unexpected result for religious denominations, the broad area from which the men were drawn, made the Honour Board more interesting, and served to tantalise and encourage further research of the men themselves, their military service and their position within their family/ community.

The soldiers

Each of the 88 men named on the Honour Board has an interesting, even unique story. It is not possible to tell their individual stories here; however some summary information reveals the extent of their service and collective sacrifice. The range of post-war commemoration of soldiers beyond the Honour Board is briefly described, and a single case study is employed to illustrate the connection between the Honour Board and other forms of commemoration, in particular In Memoriam notices.

The 1st AIF consisted of the infantry and most of the combat arms and services for five infantry divisions, the mounted infantry regiments for five light horse brigades, a range of Corps Troops units, and several headquarters. The vast majority of Australian troops served in one of five infantry divisions, or one of the light horse regiments. The two British soldiers served, one each, in the infantry and artillery.

The men named on the Honour Board are a microcosm of the 1st AIF. Combined, they served in all of the five infantry divisions, including over half of the 15 infantry brigades; as well as in the 10th Light Horse Regiment (part of the 3 Light Horse Brigade). Almost 90% of the men were serving with the infantry at the time they were killed or wounded. Two men served in specialised units (machine gun company and light trench mortar battery) within their respective divisions. One man served in a heavy artillery unit (Corps Troops) and another in a General Hospital and on hospital ships. Between them the men served a total of 117 years’ service (from enlistment to date of death), and averaged just over 16 months service each. 21 The longest period of service was 44 months (Ernest Higham), while the shortest period of service was just five months (Clayton Hawley). The British soldiers, Rowson and Tombleson, served for 26 and 48 months respectively. About 60% of the men held no rank (they were private soldiers or equivalent). The number of Lance Corporals, Corporals and Sergeants (28) is probably above the figure to be expected from a sample of this size. The number of officers (five) is also probably higher than expected. The highest military rank held was that of Captain (Joseph Mayersbeth). The men came from disparate backgrounds; those with the best education were not necessarily the most senior in military rank, and those with the least privileged upbringing were not necessarily the most junior. Prior to enlistment the men were employed in a broad range of undertakings, including clerks, wharf labourers, farm labourers, pearlers, hairdressers, shopkeepers, warder in an asylum for the insane, locomotive cleaners, timber workers and porters. The five officers’ employment was equally eclectic - with a teacher, a travelling salesman, a foreman in a timber company, a clerk, and a telegraph linesman.

Many of the men were early enlistees. By the end of 1915, 77 men named on the Honour Board (76%) had enlisted. All had enlisted by the end of August 1917. The average age of the Australians named on the Honour Board was 25 years and seven months. Seven men were aged 19 years and below (less than 10%). A similar figure applied to men aged above 40 years (six men or 7%).The most common age was 21 years.

Four sets of brothers are named on the Honour Board. In addition there are several cases where a sibling of men named on the Honour Board was also killed but is not commemorated at St Paul’s. There is one instance of an uncle and nephew named on the Honour Board, and there are several sets of brothers-in-law and cousins. Collectively four military awards were earned - a Distinguished Conduct Medal (second only to the Victoria Cross for soldiers), two Military Medals, and a Mention in Despatches. This figure may be slightly above average for a similar number of men. The men died in actions and major battles between the landing at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915 (three men) and the Mont St Quentin battle of 2 September 1918 (one man). A total of 66 men (75%) were killed in action; 16 died of wounds; two died of wounds as prisoners of war; three men died from illnesses; and one man died in a training accident. Twenty four men were killed or died of wounds at Gallipoli during 1915. A total of 28 men were killed or died during their induction to the Western Front, and the battles of Fromelles, Pozieres, Mouquet Farm and Flers during 1916 (a bad year to be a Western Australian member of the 1st AIF in France). In 1917, 19 men were killed at Armentieres, and in the battles of Lagnicourt, the Hindenburg Line, First and Second Bullecourt, Messines, and Third Ypres. In 1918, 16 men died during the defence of Amiens, and the battles of Villers-Bretonneux, Le Hamel, Merris, Amiens, and Mont St Quentin. In 1919 one man died in Fremantle as a result of influenza.

The cemeteries and memorials at Gallipoli, Cairo, Alexandria, France, Belgium and England have a ‘light dusting’ of St Paul’s Honour Board men. A total of 55 of the men are buried in 43 cemeteries in Turkey, Egypt, France, Belgium and England, with one man buried in the Fremantle Cemetery. Over one third (33 men) have no known grave and are commemorated on the major memorials of Lone Pine (11), Villers-Bretonneux (16) and Meninx Gate  The cemetery with the highest number of Honour Board men is Shell Green Cemetery at Gallipoli (five men). Wartime and post-war commemoration

During World War I the pre-war commemoration etiquette was modified. Families were able to employ some elements of the pre-war grief and remembrance etiquette, develop new ones, and greatly expand the use of others. The casualty list of names of the dead released by the Commonwealth after the next of kin had been formally advised of the fate of their son or sons became the Death notice. A ‘Killed in Action’ notice placed by the bereaved family, containing such information as date and place of death, military unit and rank, replaced the Funeral notice.

Family Notices
Killed in Action.
ANDERSON - About August 1, killed in action at the Dardanelles, John Shaw, eldest beloved son of Mr. and Mrs.J. P. Anderson, of John- street, Fremantle, aged 19 years. Deeply regretted. 22

With few exceptions funerals were conducted on the battlefield, in hospital graveyards, cemeteries in the UK, or not at all. Obituaries and Bereavement notices were much less common than before the war.

Family Notices
Bereavement Notices.
Mrs Edwin Edmondson, of Anzac-road, Leederville, wishes to sincerely THANK all kind friends for cards, letters, telegrams and personal expressions of sympathy in the loss of her husband, Lieutenant E. Edmondson, 28th Battalion (late Boulder Manual Training Centre) killed in action somewhere in France, September 2, 1918. 23

The probate and letters of administration advice still occurred well after the death of a soldier, and generally out of the glare of page 1.

The list of probates and administrations during the past week was as follows:-
Walter Horace Elgar Hale, late of Fremantle, to Digby Harry Beard, £628/1 1/7. 24

The In Memoriam notice, placed in the newspaper on the anniversaries of death, evolved into a very public, and for many, the most important or enduring form of commemoration. This particularly applied to those who were not parishioners or regular church attendees. For many families the In Memoriam notice was employed for many years after the end of the war, extending beyond the death of parents and other family members.

Family Notices
In Memoriam.
Anzac Heroes.
COMBEN - In sad and loving remembrance of my dearly loved husband and my darling daddy, L/ Corporal Charles T. Comben, Lewis Gun Section, 44*“ Battalion, killed in action at Hamel, July 4, 1918.
We can lift our heads up proudly,
But shed many a silent tear
By sparing my darling daddy,
And my best friend, my husband dear.
It’s hard to live without you,
We miss your letters so,
The one we loved so dearly,
The one we worshipped so.
My husband, my darling daddy.
Inserted by his fond wife and loving son, Clara and Victor. 25

Far from mourning quietly and remembering privately the In Memoriam notices employed by the majority of soldiers’ families were a highly public and very emotional commemoration.

Other forms of commemoration

In addition to the St Paul’s church Honour Board the men are commemorated by name in a surprisingly broad range of ways and locations, both within Australia and overseas. While the men and their families came from many geographically dispersed locations to gather in Fremantle for the key event of their lives (to play their role in World War I through enlistment into the 1st AIF), their subsequent service and death meant they were again dispersed widely across the Middle East, Europe and the UK. With one exception the men’s graves and memorial references are maintained by the CWGC. James Mills’ death in 1919 from influenza was apparently deemed to be not as a consequence of his war service (this is surprising given the health issues he experienced late in his service) and he was buried privately in Fremantle.

Once again with the exception of James Mills, and the added exception of Rowson and Tombleson, the men are commemorated on the Roll of Honour panels (and databases) at the AWM in Canberra. Within Western Australia the men are commemorated on a range of state, civic, workplace based and church memorials and honour boards. The State War Memorial in Kings Park commemorates the same group as at the AWM. The 10th Light Horse Regiment Memorial at Kings Park commemorates the five members of that unit named on the St Paul’s Honour Board. Also at Kings Park, and pre-dating the State War Memorial by almost 10 years, are plaques placed adjacent to trees along the Avenues of Honour that commemorate more than 1600 men who died in World War I and subsequent conflicts. Twenty one of the men are remembered on these plaques. From 25 April 2015 the same men who are commemorated on the State War Memorial are listed on the Fremantle War Memorial. In North Fremantle (four men) and Mosman Park (three men), St Paul’s Honour Board men are recognised. The East Fremantle Council has an Honour Roll at the entrance to the council offices that lists five of the men. The Jarrahdale War Memorial (and Honour Roll in the community hall) lists Ernest Selkirk and Leslie Truman amongst those commemorated. In other country towns there are memorials (such as at Kellerberrin) and honour rolls (Geraldton) upon which several men are listed. The honour roll of the Perth Modern School at Subiaco lists the names of former students killed during the war; this list includes two men from the St Paul’s Honour Board - John Shaw Anderson and Thomas Harvey. Workplace based honour boards listing St Paul’s Honour Board men include the Western Australian Government Railway, the Postmaster General’s Department (Joseph Mayersbeth, Arthur Every and Frank Parkinson) and Boan Brothers Department Store (Roy Williams). St George’s Cathedral in Perth has a memorial to the choristers from the cathedral killed during the war - this includes the name of Elgar Hale. The St John’s church in Fremantle has a marble honour roll upon which 10 men are commemorated. Other churches commemorate a number of the men; perhaps the most unusual (and to a degree unexpected) is now the Town of Claremont Library. The library building is a former O church in which one of the stained glass windows commemorates the two brothers of Horace Mofflin, Percy and Edward. Horace was a successful businessman, Fremantle and Claremont Councillor and philanthropist originally resident in Fremantle. Percy is named on the St Paul’s Honour Board (whilst Edward is not). Percy is widely commemorated - in East Fremantle and Geraldton in addition to the Fremantle War Memorial, Avenue of Honour plaque, 10th Light Horse Regiment Memorial and State War Memorial, as well as the AWM. High recognition indeed for a man who also served in the Anglo-Boer War and who identified his pre-war employment as Drover.

Case study

This case study is of two of the 88 men named on the Honour Board. It outlines their military service, their deaths, and details how else they have been commemorated. Their stories are compelling, but no more compelling than the remaining 86 men. Any of the other 86 men could have been chosen as interesting cases; the Robertson brothers were chosen as the most extreme example of prolonged and public commemoration. Lance Corporal Frederick Robertson and Private Lewis Robertson Fred Robertson was born at Fremantle in 1892; Lewis (Louis or Lou) in 1895. 26 Their father was John Robertson, who was born in Scotland, in about 1866. Their mother was Hannah Jeffery, born about 1873. Just when and where John arrived in Australia and where he and Hannah met and married is not clear from available records. They had three sons, Frederick (Fred), Lewis (Lou), and John (Jack). John was an engine driver for the Western Australian Government Railways (WAGR). It appears that although Fred and Lou were born at Fremantle the family lived at Bunbury. Jack, the third son, was born at Bunbury in 1902. Between 1910 and 1916 John was transferred by the WAGR to Midland Junction. The family moved to South Fremantle in August/ September 1915. By June 1920 John, Hannah and their youngest son were located at Charles-street, South Fremantle, and John had changed his employment, to crane driver on the Fremantle wharf.


Prior to World War I Fred and Lou were employed by the WAGR, as Locomotive Fireman and Locomotive Cleaner respectively. Fred enlisted into the 1st A.I.F. in June 1915, single, aged 22 years. Fred embarked as 2717 Private F. Robertson, from Fremantle in September 1915 with the 8th reinforcement group for the 11"‘ Battalion. Lou enlisted in August 1915, single, aged 20 years. Lou embarked as 3151 Private L. A. Robertson, from Fremantle in September 1915 with the 10th reinforcement group for the same battalion. Although he had enlisted nearly two months before his brother, Fred embarked less than two weeks ahead of Lou.

Fred spent little time in Egypt. By the end of October he was at the reinforcement camp near the beach at Anzac Cove. He remained there undertaking working parties until 12 December, when his reinforcement group was moved to Lemnos and taken on strength by the 11th Battalion. Fred spent an uninspiring Christmas at Lemnos, and sailed for Alexandria with the 11th Battalion, on 4 January 1916. The 11th Battalion arrived at Tel-el-Kebir on the night of 6-7 January. On 8 January reinforcements from the 9th, 10th, and 11th reinforcement groups were absorbed by the 11th Battalion, and Fred and Lou were reunited. They were allocated to different companies. After only a couple of weeks of training the 11th Battalion was transferred to the Canal Zone where it undertook a combination of training, and occupation of a defensive line about 16 kilometres east of the Suez Canal. When the AIF was expanded through the creation of the 4th and 5th Divisions at the end of February, both Fred and Lou were retained in the 11th Battalion.

Both were transferred with the 11th Battalion to France in late March, and passed through Marseilles on the way to northern France, in early April. After about six weeks of training in gas masks and drills, Mills bombs, digging trenches and conduct of fatigues, and a period of reserve in the Armentieres sector, the 11“‘ Battalion was exposed to the front line at Fleurbaix - the mis-named ‘Nursery’ sector, south of Armentieres. The short induction to the Western Front experienced by the 11"‘ Battalion cost 53 lives, over 100 were Wounded, and several were taken prisoner of war. Fred and Lou survived the ‘Nursery’ unscathed. The unit and its members were now considered sufficiently well trained to be exposed to a more dangerous area of the Western Front.

The 1st Australian Division was moved to the Somme to support the major British offensive that had commenced on 1 July. Early on the morning of 23 July the 11th Battalion was part of a 3rd Brigade attack on Pozieres from the south. The 11th Battalion captured its objectives and started to consolidate the gains against German counter-attack. German sniping caused some casualties, however, German medium and heavy artillery fire through much of 24 and 25 July, constant and well directed, caused a great many casualties. When the 11th Battalion was relieved on the evening of 25 July it had suffered the highest casualty figures within the 1st Division; 19 officers and 511 other ranks killed, wounded and missing.

Fred and Lou were fortunate and again survived. The 1st Division was withdrawn and the 11th Battalion was afforded a brief respite. Although the 11th Battalion had not recovered the rest ended on 9 August by which time Pozieres had been captured and the fighting had moved on in an attempt to capture Mouquet Farm, just a short distance north of Pozieres. From 19 August the 11th Battalion was allocated carrying tasks (especially ammunition and water) to support other unit attacks on Mouquet Farm. At short notice on 21 August, the 11th Battalion was required to provide 200 men to supplement an attack, and later still more were required. Lou was one of the 11th Battalion men committed to the attack. The men were subject to heavy German artillery fire, and the attack was not successful.

The survivors were withdrawn early in the morning of 23 August. The 11th Battalion lost 22 men killed or died of wounds, and over 40 wounded. Lou was one of the men killed. His body was not found after the battle or after the war. He is commemorated on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial, along with over 11,700 Australians killed in France who have no known grave. Lou was still aged 21 at the time of his death. After his parents were advised of his death the Casualty List containing his name was released by the military authorities.


Western Australia.
The Roll of Honour.
226th and 227th Casualty Lists.
The 226th and 227th casualty lists, containing the names of Western Australian soldiers, together with those who enlisted elsewhere, but whose relatives reside in this State, were released by the Censor yesterday morning, and are published below. Where not otherwise stated, the names are those of privates.
226th List.
5th Military District.
Held Over From Previous List.
5th Military District.
Killed in Action.
L. A. Robertson (S. Fremantle). 27

After only a couple of days of grieving John and Hannah Robertson placed a Killed in Action notice in the family notices column of the newspaper.

Family Notices
Killed in Action.
ROBERTSON - Killed in action, in France, on or about August 22, Private Lou. A., second beloved son of Mr. and Mrs. Robertson, Charles-street, South Fremantle, late of Bunbury, and Midland Junction; brother of Jacky and Fred, on active service; aged 21 years and 4 months.
His duty nobly done
His King and country called him,
He nobly answered duty’s call;
His friends, his home, his loved ones,
He sacrificed them all. 28

Lou’s parents were initially advised that he had been killed in action between 20 and 23 July 1916 This news caused consternation because they had received mail from Lou dated after he was supposed to have been killed. They queried the accuracy of the information with military authorities in Perth and were subsequently advised that the appropriate dates were 20 to 23 August. Lou’s simple personal effects - two handkerchiefs, badges, curios, cards, writing pad and a wrist watch strap - were later sent to his parents.

Before August 1917, when John and Hannah Robertson would be expecting to place an In Memoriam notice in the newspaper for Lou, they received discouraging news about their other soldier son.

After Mouquet Farm the remainder of the year was arduous but relatively quiet for the 11th Battalion. It spent time in the Ypres salient in Belgium providing working parties (and suffering casualties, albeit in small numbers). It also experienced the harsh weather back on the Somme, at Flers, in November; and saw 1917 start from the front lines. Fred was promoted to Lance-Corporal in mid-December 1916. Although not wounded he was receiving treatment for a common complaint between December 1916 and March 1917, indeed he was yet to complete the course of treatment at the time he re-joined the 11th Battalion in early April.

The German tactical withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line in February 1917 brought the 11th Battalion to the vicinity of the outpost villages in front of the Hindenburg Line. On 9 April the 3rd Brigade attacked the village of Boursies, with the 11th Battalion in support. Two days later the 11th Battalion took over front line responsibility in the vicinity of Lagnicourt. The very broad divisional frontage consisted of many mutually supporting but exposed posts, in front of more heavily defended depth positions. The Germans were able to take advantage of the broad frontage and, from 14 April, attacked and captured individual posts. The majority of attacks fell on 15 April. The posts were stoutly defended against overwhelming odds. Although many posts were captured the Germans were unable to breach the 11th Battalion depth positions, however the 11th Battalion lost 43 men killed, with about 200 Wounded. Additionally, over 160 men were captured by the Germans.

Fred was one of the wounded. He received a severe gunshot wound to the abdomen. On 2 May Fred’s parents received initial advice that he had received a penetrating gunshot wound, and that he was dangerously ill. His name was then included in the next Casualty List.

Western Australia.
The Roll of Honour.
297th Casualty List.
The 297th casualty list was released by the Censor last night, and is published below. It contains the names of Western Australian soldiers, together with those who enlisted elsewhere, but whose relatives reside in this State. Where not otherwise stated, the names are those of privates:-
5th Military District.
Lance-Corporal F. S. Robertson (Fremantle), dangerously. 29

On 12 May John and Hannah were, more reassuringly, advised that Fred’s condition was ‘stationary’. On 23 May they were informed that he had been transferred to the Edmonton Hospital in England. Even more encouragingly, on 7 August they were advised that Fred was progressing favourably.

Fred’s wound perforated his liver and affected his colon. He had been progressively evacuated through a Field Ambulance, Casualty Clearing Station to a General Hospital on the Channel Coast, before being evacuated to England. He was admitted to the General Military Hospital Edmonton on 7 May 1917, after a staged evacuation that reflects both the seriousness of his wound and reserved expectations of his recovery. On 27 October John and Hannah were even informed that Fred was pronounced out of danger.

In the meantime John and Hannah placed the first of what was to become a long sequence of In Memoriam notices. The notice was for Lou, although Fred was very much in their thoughts.

Family Notices
In Memoriam.
Anzac Heroes.
ROBERTSON - Killed in action, at Pozieres, about August 22, 1916, Louis Alexander (Lou), dearly loved second son of Mr. and Mrs. J. Robertson, and brother of Jackie and Fred, dangerously wounded, now in England.
In our hearts your memory lingers,
Tender, fond and true,
There’s not a day goes by, dear Lou,
But what we think of you.
Sadly missed.
Inserted by his loving parents and brothers Fred and Jack. 30

However, Fred died from the effects of his wounds (and complications that included a cerebral abscess) eight months after he was wounded. Officially, he died on 26 December 1917 at the Edmonton Hospital. According to his mother, he was aged 25 years, and one day. He therefore died on the day after Christmas, which was also the anniversary of his own birth. After the sad news was passed to his parents Fred’s name was included in the next Casualty List.

W.A. Casualties.
At the Fighting Fronts.
378th and 379th Casualty lists.
The 378th and 379th casualty lists were released by the Censor yesterday, and are published below. They contain the names of Western Australian soldiers, together with those who enlisted elsewhere, but whose relatives reside in this State. Where not otherwise stated the names are those of privates:-
379th List.
Died of Wounds.
Lance-Corporal Robertson, Frederick, South Fremantle, previously reported dangerously wounded. 31

Fred’s bereaved parents placed the Killed in Action notice in the West Australian, marking the death of their eldest son. That it had taken eight months for Fred to die from the effects of his wounds undoubtedly added to their grief.

Family Notices
Killed in Action.
ROBERTSON - Died on December 26, 1917, of wounds received in France on April 16, 1917, Lance-Corporal Fred Robertson, dearly beloved eldest son of Mr. and Mrs.J. Robertson, Charles-street, South Fremantle, late of Bunbury and Midland Junction, brother of Lou, killed in action in France, and of Jackie, aged 25 years and one day.
We prayed for your safe return Fred,
And longed to clasp your hand;
But God postponed our meeting,
It will be in a better land.
None were there who loved you, dear,
To hear your last soft sigh;
To breathe a prayer to God above
Or kiss your lips good-bye.
Inserted by his sorrowing parents and brother. 32

Fred was buried in the Brookwood Military Cemetery, Surrey, England, on 29 December, 1917. Of all of the men named on the Honour Board Fred’s funeral was possibly the most dignified. In the remarks of interest to the next-of-kin recorded on Fred’s Burial Report the following is stated: The deceased soldier was accorded a Military Funeral. The coffin was draped with the Australian Flag. Firing Party, Bugler and pallbearers were supplied by the Administrative Headquarters, A.I.F. London. 33

Fred’s personal effects - one bible, photos, card, watch (broken) and strap, three handkerchiefs, one pocket knife and chain, one shaving brush, one razor, one match box cover, two discs, one mirror, badges, and a purse were sent to his parents.


Image 5. Frederick Robertson’s headstone in the Brookwood Military Cemetery, Surrey, England, 31 January 2001. (Matt Smith, Australian War Graves Photographic Archive - www. Image DSCO5 882).

John and Hannah remained at Charles-street, South Fremantle after the war. They placed separate In Memoriam notices in the Wast Australian newspaper near the anniversaries of their sons’ deaths until 1922 Thereafter Lou and Fred were included in the same annual notice in December. The notices were never repeated verbatim, each notice was sufficiently different to show that reflection and consideration had been invested into the sad process of commemoration.

Family Notices
In Memoriam.
Anzac Heroes.
ROBERTSON - In loving memory of our dear son and brother, Private L. A. Robertson (Lou), killed in action at Pozieres, August 23, 1916, and loving brother of Fred, died of wounds December 26, 1917.
Two years to-day in battle you fell,
Our sorrow for you no Words can tell.
You left Australia, your duty to do,
And fell like a hero, loyal and true.
Inserted by their loving parents and brother Jack, of Charles-street, South Fremantle. 34

On 22 August 1918 Fred and Lou’s cousin Harry Stanton was killed in action in France. He too is named on the St Paul’s Honour Board. In December 1918 just after the war’s conclusion, John and Hannah revealed their feelings at seeing men come home from the war, when their two sons would not.

Family Notices
In Memoriam.
Anzac Heroes.
ROBERTSON - In loving memory of our dear son and brother, Lance-Corporal Fred Robertson, 8"‘ reinforcements 11"‘ Battalion, who died in England of wounds received in action December 26, 1917, eldest son of Mr. and Mrs.J. Robertson, and brother of Jackie, of Charles-street, Fremantle, and Lou, killed in action August 23, 1916.
Day by day the boys returning
Cheer the darkened lives of some;
But our hearts are sad and lonely,
For our boys who have gone.
Gone, dear Fred, gone for ever,
Gone from this world of sorrow and pain;
Gone from the mother that loved you dearly,
Never on earth to see you again.
Sadly missed.
Inserted by their loving parents and brother, of Charles-street, South Fremantle. 35

John and Hannah lived within the St Paul’s parish. They registered interest in having their sons’ names listed on the Honour Board and may have made a donation (any donation by them is not separately identified in the church records). It would have been an easy decision for Reverend Bowen to make to include both Fred and Lou’s names on the Honour Board.


Image 6: Frederick and Lewis’ names on the fourth panel of the St Paul’s Church Honour Board, 22 May 2015. (Peter Humphris, St Paul’s Church, Beaconsfield).

John Robertson died at Fremantle in 1924, aged 58 years. After John’s death Hannah placed In Memoriam notices in the West Australian to him until 1931. Hannah continued to place In Memoriam notices in the West Australian until her own death in 1954, aged 81 years. The anniversaries of her sons’ deaths, and, in particular, the time she would sit to write the next In Memoriam notice, must have remained intensely emotional times. The notice for 1938 contains the quote that provides the title of this paper. Of necessity, and quite poignantly, the quote was modified to make provision for the loss of two sons and not just the one friend Tennyson lost in inspiration for the poem.

Family Notices
In Memoriam.
Anzac Heroes.
ROBERTSON - In loving memory of our dear Sons and Brothers, Frederick Robertson, died of wounds, December 26, 1917, and his loving Brother, Lou, killed in action, August 22, 1916.
Oh, for the touch of vanished hands,
And a sound of voices that are stilled.
Inserted by their loving mother and brother Jack. 36
The final notice to Lewis and Fred was placed by their surviving brother, over 37 years.
Family Notices
In Memoriam.
Anzac Heroes.
Jack, at the end of 1954. This concluded an unbroken sequence of notices
ROBERTSON: In loving memory of my brothers, Frederick, died of wounds, Dec. 26, 1917; and Lou, killed in action, Aug. 22, 1916.
Ever remembered by their brother Jack. 37

For over ninety years the St Pauls church community has been the willing custodian of the Honour Board. The need for the Honour Board was generated by the loss of local men or men with a local connection; the consequence to the church of this communion of commemoration was a delay of ninety years to the completion of the church building. The church building has now been completed and the Honour Board sympathetically refurbished.

FHS, General meeting, 2014


1 Alfred Lord Tennyson, ‘Break, Break, Break. ’The poem was written in 1835 and is a requiem for a university friend who died suddenly.

2 George Paynter obtained information from the Australian War Memorial (AWM) website, and more useful information was available online for some of the men through the National Archives of Australia (NAA) site. George had already discovered this was not a straightforward exercise. I wish to recognise and commend George's early work.

3 St Paul’s church parish records. The records are split between the State Library of Western Australia and the St Paul’s church parish office.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Family notices, West Australian, 5 March 1910, p1.

7 Family notices, West Australian, 8 May 1907, p1.

8 Family notices, Kalgoorlie Miner, 19 September 1911, p4.

9 News and notes, West Australian, 14 October 1910, p4.

10 Family Notices, West Australian, 18 January 1913, p1.

11 S. Welborn, Lords of death, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, Fremantle, 1982, p190. The information is sourced from the 1911 Australian census.

12 Referred to in St Paul’s church parish records. The WA War Council was established under the War Council Act of 1915 - it predominantly dealt with state aspects of recruiting and repatriation of soldiers. In 1917 it formally adopted the New South Wales position on war memorials - that energies expended in their production should be directed towards the more immediate needs of the war effort, and that their construction should be postponed at least until the end of the war after which soldiers could be present at opening ceremonies, and more funding would be available because the need K 7 for successive memorials would be obviated. Memorials involving trifling expenditure were excepted. See WA War Council, Daily News, 18 July 1917, p4.

13 Meeting of the St Paul’s church Sailors, Soldiers and Nurses Memorial Sanctuary Fund of 20 February 1919, held by State Library of Western Australia.

14 Committee meeting of the St Paul's church Sailors, Soldiers and Nurses Memorial Sanctuary Fund of 1 May 1919, held by State Library of Western Australia.

15 St Paul’s church Parishioners Annual Meeting of 25 May 1921, held by State Library of Western Australia.

16 St Paul’s church Vestry Minutes of 25 September 1921 and 23 October 1921, held by St Paul’s church. A second board, known as the Roll of Honour, was completed in 1922, at a cost of £12. It is of varnished plywood construction with the names of 338 local men who had served during the war painted onto the board. Deceased soldiers’ names were indicated by a painted star. This board was for many years on display in the north porch of the church. It was damaged during an attempt at cleaning and it is now in storage.

17 St Paul's church Vestry Minutes of 23 October 1921, held by St Paul’s church.

18 S. Welborn, Lords of death, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, Fremantle, 1982, p192. The information is sourced from the 1911 Australian census.

19 Address details at enlistment have been taken from the Attestation Form attached to each serviceman’s records held by the NAA.

20 It is interesting to compare these figures with Welborn’s larger, unit-based sample. The principal difference is that the % of Western Australian-born men named on the Honour Board is much higher, and the °/0 of Victorian- born men is much lower. Many of the men named on the Honour Board were the children of families who migrated to Western Australia either before the 1890s gold rush or during its early stages.

21 All of the summary information is derived from service records and AWM, CWGC and other databases. All of the composition and analysis was done by the author.

22 Family notices, West Australian, 14 October 1915, p1.

23 Family notices, West Australian, 2 October 1918, p1.

24 Wills, Sunday Times, 7 April 1918, p12.

25 Family notices, West Australian, 4 July 1919, p1.

26 Information for the case study is drawn from a range of sources, including electoral rolls, births, deaths and marriages detail (both sourced through Ancestry), service records (sourced from NAA), embarkation rolls, roll of honour and unit war diary (AWM), and from descriptions in the Official History (Bean), as well as several histories of the 11"‘ Battalion, especially Belford, Legs-eleven, Burridge, Perth, 1992 (pp 1940), and Gill, Fremantle to France, Advance press, Perth, 2nd edition 2004. Although not employed for the case study Hurst, Game to the last, Oxford university press, Melbourne, 2005 provides excellent coverage of the 11th Battalion at Gallipoli.

27 226th casualty list, West Australian, 3 October 1916, p7

28 Family notices, West Australian, 5 October 1916, p1.

29 297th casualty list, West Australian, 15 May 1917, p5.

30 Family notices, West Australian , 22 August 1917, p1. The West Australian newspaper always listed in memoriam notices for World War l soldiers under the sub-heading of Anzac Heroes.

31 379th casualty list, Daily News, 12 January 1918, p6. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that Fred’s death occurred earlier and that it was ‘held over’ for a short time until after Christmas Day and his birthday.

32 Family notices, West Australian, 16 January 1918, p1.

33 Service record of 2717 Lance Corporal F. Robertson, NAA B2455.

34 Family notices, West Australian, 23 August 1918, p1.

35 Family notices, West Australian, 27 December 1918, p1.

36 Family notices, West Australian, 24 December 1938, p1.

37 Family Notices, West Australian, 24 December 1954, p28.

Garry Gillard | New: 2 July, 2018 | Now: 16 December, 2018