Sons of Williamstown
Mayor of Hobsons Bay Councillor Peter Hemphill said the Sons of Williamstown involved the refurbishment of the Great War honour board in the Williamstown Town Hall, but also telling the stories of the Williamstown soldiers who did not return from the war.
"The honour board is a truly special memorial – it is one of the few honour boards in Australia that has photographs as well as the names of those who died in the Great War,” said Cr Hemphill.
“The brave men who enlisted from Williamstown came from all walks of life: they were butchers, bakers, lawyers, architects - there was even a piano maker."
The honour board was put together by former Williamstown City Council Mayor Bill Henderson.
Between 1917 and 1924, Cr Henderson went around to visit the families of the men who died during the war, seeking photographs of the fallen soldiers.
These were mounted on a blackwood honour board with doors opening out.
“The work of Councillor Bill Henderson to track down most of these photographs was quite extraordinary," said Cr Hemphill.
"While it was truly a ‘labour of love’ for Cr Henderson, it also exposed him to the extraordinary grief being felt in his community by family who had lost fathers, sons or brothers."
That was borne out in an article a local newspaper in June, 1919:
"The experiences he had gone through in getting these photographs had been an education to him. He had seen more of the domestic side of grief than he had done before."
Cr Hemphill said The Sons of Williamstown project allowed the honour board to be restored, but also included research to discover more about these men.
"Some of the gold paint lettering naming each photograph had stuck to the glass covering the honour board and the deterioration meant some soldiers' names could soon be lost forever," he said.
"Expert conservator Jude Shahinger did an amazing job restoring the lettering and the beautiful woodwork in the honour board.
"Local historians Lindy Wallace and Lorraine Callow researched each of the men to find out their service records and the stories behind some of the men.
"They sought information from the Australian War Memorial, Australian Infantry Force records and newspaper plus that from today's families of the soldiers.
"Confusing the research was that some surnames were misspelt and one had a surname with did not match that on the honour board at all.
"This work has been extraordinary and quite an emotional experience for both researchers."
Cr Hemphill said the two researchers were unable to confirm the records of nine men on the board with absolute certainty and were hoping family members might come forward with information.
The personal stories of most of these men can be found at the Sons of Williamstown – A Labour of Love website at www.sonsofwilliamstown.com.au
The interpretation of the honour board has been assisted by the ANZAC Centenary Local Grants Program through the office of Tim Watts, Federal Member for Gellibrand.
Cr Hemphill said professional photographer Rob Lawler photographed the images of the soldiers during the restoration process.
"Most of the photographs collected by Cr Henderson are not held by the Australian War Memorial, so this project will benefit the national collection," he said.
Cr Hemphill has made part of his mayoral program a celebration of local history.
That program includes heritage street signs recognising local history.
"Some of our streets were named after soldiers who fought in the Great War, so before too long, I hope we will appropriately recognise these men in another form," he said.
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