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Brass font ewer

Brass font ewer

St Matthew’s Anglican Church
Tyson Street
South Grafton NSW, 2460

Brass shell cases were frequently souvenired by returning troops who reworked them as ‘trench art’ into vases, containers, ashtrays and a host of other ornamental and utilitarian items.

One such object may be unique in that it serves as the water ewer (jug) for baptisms in St Mathew’s Anglican Church, South Grafton. In his meticulous account of his wartime experiences, Private Verdi Schwinghammer of Grafton, who served in the 42nd Battalion, described how this happened.

On 23 December 1918 he was granted three days leave to locate the grave of his cousin, Private Bernard Grafton Johnson, near the ruins of Sailly–le-Sec in France. After four hours inspecting every cross he saw, he located a large wooden cross on the top of a ridge:

It had a map of Australia worked in tin, on it, and on which were written the names of fourteen Aussies who were all buried in the one grave. My cousin’s name was amongst them. I buried a little bunch of pressed flowers, that his Mother had posted over to me, on the grave and got a little tobacco tin of earth from the grave and which I posted back to my aunt in Australia.

Noticing the thousands of empty shells lying about, he took two of them back to camp. When he was hospitalised ‘one of my pals packed them up and posted them back to my Mother in Australia ... I afterwards got one made up into a font ewer, which I placed in South Grafton Church of England to her memory’.

Verdi was a descendant of German families who settled on the Clarence River in the 1850s. In Grafton they established businesses and played significant roles in public life. His father Albert Schwinghammer was mayor at one time, and sat on the local War Service Committee.

In April 1916 the Sydney newspaper The Mirror of Australia published the first of several articles questioning the patriotism of the Grafton German community. Headlines such as ‘Grafton Huns’, ‘Schwinghammer Scandal’ and ‘British Community run by Germans’, made claims that were biased against the perceived financial and social success of those of German heritage.

Charles Francis Sole of Grafton enlisted in February 1916 only to be discharged two weeks later for being of ‘German parentage’. This was almost certainly Verdi’s brother Charles, attempting to enlist under a derivation of their mother’s maiden name ‘Saul’. He successfully re-enlisted in Brisbane several months later, under the name Schwinghammer.

Verdi was awarded the Royal Shipwreck Relief and Humane Society Bronze Medal for rescuing two boys from the river at Grafton on Christmas Eve 1928 and re-enlisted in the 2nd AIF in the Second World War.


Service Record for Private Verdi George Schwinghammer, No. 2639, 42nd Battalion:

Verdi George Schwinghammer diary, 6 May 1916 – 26 September 1919, MLMSS 1683, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales:  – digitised images – transcription

Service Records for Private Charles Schwinghammer, No. 2650, 41st Battalion (enlisted as Sole and Swinghammer):

‘Northern River Huns: Cases at Lismore and Grafton’, The Mirror of Australia, 22 April  1916:

‘For Bravery: Humane Society’s Awards’, Sydney Morning Herald, 10 Sept 1929:|||l-year=1929

Further information

St Matthew’s Anglican Church
PO Box 20
South Grafton NSW 2460

Phone 02 6643 1313