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Chapter 7: Honour Rolls, commemorative plaques & other memorials

Memories & Memorabilia Cover

Memories & Memorabilia: Recognising and Preserving Australia's Wartime Heritage

Recognising and preserving Australia's war heritage


Chapter 7: Honour Rolls, commemorative plaques & other memorials

On an April evening in 1955 the citizens of Black Springs, South Australia, gathered at their local hall to unveil the Black Springs World War II Roll of Honour. It was an historic moment for Black Springs and, according to the district newspaper, The Burra Record, there was a good turnout of returned personnel for the occasion. The honour roll, carrying the names of two men of Black Springs who had died in the war, was unveiled by the Mayor of Burra. One resident, a Mr Dunn, asserted that, as the years went by, the honour roll would become very sacred.

World War I Honour Roll, Caramut State School, Caramut, Victoria.

World War I Honour Roll, Caramut State School, Caramut, Victoria.
(Deakin University - Centre for Regional Development)

Honour rolls are the most common form of war memorial in Australia. They can be found in schools, community halls, memorial halls, shire offices and many other locations. In many communities, especially during World War I, they were often the first sort of memorial to be put up honouring those who had enlisted. Later, stars or crosses were placed beside names to indicate those who had been killed in action, died of wounds or died of other causes on active service. Sometimes abbreviations were added to indicate the award of a medal for bravery. Sometimes honour rolls named only those who had paid the supreme sacrifice.

On 24 May 1916, for example, in the Victorian coastal town of Lorne, the local Red Cross placed a temporary honour roll in the town library. Public and private schools throughout the country also erected honour rolls, each recording the names of past pupils who had enlisted. Smaller townships which did not put up an outside memorial after the war often placed an honour roll in a public building. The citizens of Binalong, New South Wales, erected a marble Honour Roll in the town's Mechanics' Institute.

An honour roll could be an extremely elaborate affair, such as the large wooden structure created for the Williamstown Town Hall in Victoria. It contained the photographs of 265 local soldiers, mounted across three panels. Honour rolls can be found in many other institutions such as churches, banks, large companies and government departments.

While many of these are of a standard design, there are plenty which show a unique local style. These honour rolls are important for what they tell us about that community's or organisation's response to war.

The brick wall behind the dias was masked by blackwood panels with the names of all the boys who had enlisted lettered in gold and a red star added for those killed - just like the new board at the church. The original design became inadequate as the war went on and new panels were jammed on until the brick was covered.
- Brian Lewis describing the erection of an honour roll at his school during Word War One: B Lewis, Our War, 1980

The most devastating effect of war was on the families of those who died. Where this is most evident is in the thousands of church memorial plaques erected by parents to the memory of their sons and daughters. Some of these are in an individual design selected by the family but so great was the death rate that commercial firms began manufacturing suitable plaques to order. In what was the Methodist Church, Kiama, New South Wales (the building is now a church hall), a plaque was erected to the memory of two of the sons of Percy and Emma Farquharson. The sons were killed in France - Walter in 1917 and Frank in 1918. The plaque was of a standard type produced during the war, with blank sections for the family to provide name, unit, date of death and any small message or comment. Of Walter, his parents wrote simply - An Anzac. Frank's name was later added to Walter's plaque, which had been put up in 1917. Thus in October 1918, for the second time in two years, the Farquharson family attended a memorial service dedicated to one of their sons. For the occasion the rostrum, reading desk and communion table were draped in black and white and Frank's battalion colours, while a laurel wreath hung from the pulpit. Similar dedication ceremonies were held in churches throughout Australia.

Another common type of public war memorial are those which commemorate a group, military unit or event. For example, in the Pambula Town Hall, New South Wales, there is an unusual memorial. Individual metal plaques recall by name all those who worked in the district for the local Red Cross to raise money and provide comfort parcels during World War I for troops overseas. At Augusta, Western Australia, there is a memorial dedicated to the women of the Australian Army Nursing Service. It was unveiled on 21 April 1978 by Mrs V Statham who, as Sister Vivian Bullwinkel, was the only nurse to survive the infamous Banka Island massacre in February 1942.

An example of a memorial dedicated to an important event is the Centaur Memorial at Caloundra, Queensland. The Australian Hospital Ship Centaur was torpedoed early on the morning of 14 May 1943 by a Japanese submarine, off Cape Moreton, Queensland. Of the 363 persons on board, only 64 survived. Among the survivors was Sister Ellen Savage who was later awarded the George Medal for her bravery on the rafts on which the survivors drifted.

These honour rolls, plaques, and special memorials throughout Australia remind us of the significance which Australians attached to their war effort, and especially to the memory of those individuals with whom they shared that service.

Community Checklist

  • Where are the honour rolls in your community?
  • Is information available about their history - who designed them, under what circumstances were they erected and how they were paid for?
  • What memorials to individuals who died in war, such as stained glass windows, special pews, altars and wall plaques, are there in your local churches?
  • Are there any other special memorials relating to war in your community?
  • Is information readily available about these commemorative items?

Case Study
For Sale - one Honour Roll

 
Memories & Memorabilia Cover

Memories & Memorabilia: Recognising and Preserving Australia's Wartime Heritage

Recognising and preserving Australia's war heritage