A foundation stone records that the Soldier’s Memorial Hall at Hopetoun opened in 1923. A speech was delivered by the celebrated Great War veteran Brigadier General and Senator William ‘Pompey’ Elliot. A report in the Melbourne Argus of 17 April of that year noted that Senator Elliot invited a group of four women who had lost children in the war to unveil the plaque. It is not known how affected ‘Mesdames Griffin, Hatcher, White and Cook’ were on the day, but Elliot, sometimes very open in his public expression of emotion, was doubtless very moved.
The hall is still standing, its foundation stone to the right of the front entrance. The stone records that the building was erected by ‘a grateful public’ as a tribute to ‘the men of Hopetoun and District who fought in the Great War’. In a somewhat melancholy footnote it also records that: ‘This tablet was unveiled by the bereaved mothers’.
One of those ‘bereaved mothers’, a Mrs White whose son, Private William White, was killed in France on 29 May 1917, was deeply affected by this task, though there is no published record of her demeanour on the day. Philip Taylor’s award winning A Mallee Shire History: Karkarooc 1896–1995 (published 1998) records that the Hopetoun Courier carried news of his death soon after the army announced it. The Courier also published nine tributes from his family and the observation that he had been ‘voted by Hopetoun schoolchildren their most popular soldier’.
William was killed in a sector called The Catacombs near Ploegsteert Wood, which is, in turn, near Ypres in Belgium, and he was buried in the nearby Strand War Cemetery.
His mother’s desolation is powerfully evident in a small poem, the writing of which, like her participation in the opening of the Hopetoun Memorial Hall, might have helped to salve her pain:
When he wrote his last fond letter,
He was sure of victory;
He said, when the war is over mother, dear,
I will come back to thee.
Where is my boy – killed they tell me,
No more again his home he’ll see;
But when the war is over,
Still I dream he’ll come to me.
Gone – what a world of sorrow lies in
(Hopetoun Courier, 31 May 1917)
Mrs White died in 1951 and was buried at Hopetoun Cemetery.
Karkarooc: A History of the Mallee Shire 1896–1995, Phil Taylor, Shire of Karkarook, 1996 particularly Chapter 5 ‘On the Altar of Patriotism’ pp. 115–140. Mr Taylor kindly supplied the images used in this entry.
Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape, Ken Inglis, Miegunyah Press, Melbourne University, 1998. Passim.
AJ Hill, 'Elliott, Harold Edward (Pompey) (1878–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/elliott-harold-edward-pompey-6104/text10459, published in hardcopy 1981