Harveyson family provided Grenfell volunteers with home from home

Name: Charles and Harry Harveyson
Date: 1914-1918
Unit: Civilians
Location: England, Australia

Two brothers who lived 12,000 miles (20,000km) apart at the beginning of World War I combined to provide a home from home for Grenfell troops sent to Europe, and in doing so formed a bond which is as strong as ever today.

Charles Harveyson, who had migrated to Australia and was living in Grenfell, and his younger brother Harry, who lived in Finchley, London, made an arrangement whereby Grenfell soldiers would be made welcome in Harry's home when in England. But Harry and his wife Louisa went much further than this. They visited soldiers in hospital, sent cables to Australia, forwarded mail, often acted as bankers when needed, and provided a meeting place and home comforts to boys on leave.

The first Grenfell volunteers for war service in 1914 were farewelled from the railway station on 25 August. These seven men and the many others from Grenfell who followed them in 1914 became members of the first two contingents of 20,000 men each which sailed from Australia in October and December of that year.

They continued their training in Egypt and on 25 April 1915 the infantry battalions made the now legendary landing at Anzac Cove. They were reinforced in May by Light Horse Regiments, fighting as infantry in that campaign. After the evacuation from Anzac in December 1915, the survivors of the Gallipoli campaign and the large numbers of men who enlisted during the weeks and months following the landing started to arrive in England and France to commence action on the western front. The Light Horse regiments remained in Egypt, later to see action in Sinai and Palestine.

German submarine action and a growing need for food and wartime supplies in England brought about an acute shortage of shipping in 1917. England was forced to withdraw ships from the Australian run and concentrate on securing these supplies from America, where the turn-around time was much shorter. By September 1917 it became apparent that parcels sent from Australia would not reach soldiers by Christmas. Charles Harveyson wrote a letter to the local paper, the Grenfell Record, offering to collect money for Christmas parcels and cable names, unit details and amounts to be spent to his brother in London. Harry had agreed to arrange for the parcels to be posted to arrive in time for Christmas.

Later a list of 84 names of soldiers who received these parcels was published in the Grenfell Record. A return card was included in each parcel so that safe arrival could be acknowledged. Finally 53 of these returned cards were posted back to Grenfell. Most of those who did not return the cards had either been killed or wounded in the heavy fighting late in 1917, while eight men who were prisoners in Germany received money through the Red Cross. Charles Harveyson's son was one of these prisoners.

Christmas in Grenfell that year was a very sad time. Harry and Louisa Harveyson continued to cable news of casualties to Grenfell, visit hospitals and conduct open house at 87 Station Road until the end of the war.

After the war, Mayor James Durning and the citizens of Grenfell sought a way to show the town's appreciation for the kindnesses shown to their sons by Harry and Louisa Harveyson. An album and a handbag were decided on, described in the Grenfell Record as:

"a silver bag for Mrs Harveyson, and a beautiful album for Mr Harveyson. The album contains many views of Grenfell, and very many signatures of soldiers and relatives, and on the front cover, in solid Grenfell gold, are the monograms of Mr and Mrs Harveyson. The book is a work of art, being illuminated throughout in colour by John Sands."

The following letter accompanied the gifts

Dear Mr and Mrs Harveyson,

We are sending with this letter a small token of appreciation from some of the parents and friends of our boys, who depended so largely on your kindness while in England. I would like to say right here you will never be forgotten by them, and if at some future time you contemplate a visit to Australia you will surely receive a very warm welcome from Grenfell folk.

"The undertaking of collecting these names inscribed meant a little work, but it was indeed a labour of love, and I must tell you not one donation was solicited, just a letter inserted in local papers and these people gave freely and heartily what they could afford, the widows mite is even one of them; Some of them the very poorest, but I feel sure if you only knew them you would appreciate the more and accept in the loving and grateful spirit given. You will note the Governor and Dame Margaret Davidson's autograph, they were delighted to add their little appreciation too, I told them of your good work to our boys and they were delighted that their 'Ain folk' were being appreciated in this manner. You will also recognise many signatures of prominent NSW men who were visiting our town while this album was being organised. The monogram on the front is of Grenfell gold, the cottages you will note one is 'Glen Park' the old home of your brother where so many letters and cables to you were compiled, the other cottage is "The Gunyah", just to give you a little glimpse of some of our country homes.

"We were at a loss dear Mrs Harveyson to know what to send you, but the little silver bag (it is sterling) will ever be useful and we hope it will never be empty. And now our dear friends we cannot close without thanking you and your dear ones for your many kindnesses to our nephew (Will Browne), he will never forget you all I'm sure. Poor boy has lost practically the use of the right arm, but is happy and cheerful as ever, he is taking up farming and goes on the land in November. He spent about eighteen months, nearly two years in hospital out here after his arrival, and had some very trying but nevertheless clever surgical operations which saved the arm, but still he cannot use it very freely and was unable to go back to his trade again.

"And now our dear friends I think this is all, we hope you will live many years brimming with happiness and joy and that the remainder of your lives may have the pathway filled to overflowing with roseleaves of joy and plenty. Wishing you and your dear sons every joy and happiness,

We remain Your sincere friends, James and Maude Durning."

This could well have been the end of a quite remarkable story, but for a letter received in Grenfell over 70 years later. This letter, addressed to: The Mayor or Chief Executive, Grenfell, NSW, Australia, eventually came into the hands of the Grenfell Historical Society and came from Mrs Pauline Dawson, a grand-daughter of Harry and Louisa Harveyson. Mrs Dawson's father died in 1987 and her mother just a few weeks before she wrote the letter dated 15 February 1991.

In part she wrote....

"In turning out the house my sister Pam and I found the beautiful bound book, that the people of Grenfell had sent to my Grandparents in 1920. Of course, we had seen it many times before, as it had been treasured by the family for 70 years, but now we feel that maybe it should come home to Grenfell, as it is part of your town's history."

After several letters between Grenfell and Mrs Dawson, she and her husband Jim decided to bring the album to Grenfell as part of an overseas trip in 1994, at the same time meeting Harveyson relatives who still lived here. The Grenfell Historical Society arranged a dinner to welcome Mr and Mrs Dawson to Grenfell and to receive the album from Mrs Dawson.

There were no surviving soldiers who had visited Station Road or received parcels through the Harveyson's but the guests included many direct descendants as well as Harveyson relatives, RSL and Historical Society members. The Dawsons were welcomed by the Mayor, Cr Doug Freudenstein, whose father Bill had been one who received parcels through Station Road.

The highlight of the evening was Pauline Dawson's speech when she handed the album to Historical Society member Lloyd Mitton, whose father had also been a visitor to Station Road.

This was Mrs Dawson's speech:

"This is an emotional occasion for me, and if in the next few minutes I falter you must forgive me, but I want you all to know how delighted I am to be here in Grenfell. The occasion of course, for me, the return of the book to its place of origin, but perhaps a brief reminder is called for as to what it is all about.

"When, during the first World War the Australian soldiers started to come over to England preparatory to active service, my grandparents made their home in Finchley available to them as a meeting place, a home from home, no doubt a bit of loving care and attention as well.

"As this was all arranged between my Grandfather and his brother Charles in Grenfell, it was boys from Grenfell who were involved, and so it was the folk of Grenfell who so kindly produced and donated this book to express their thanks to my Grandparents. I felt that a Harveyson from Finchley should bring it back here, as if it would be completing the circle. So I have brought the Grenfell Book home to where my sister Pam and I feel it belongs, and she wished me to say how sorry she is not to be here as well, and she sends her kindest regards to you all. This is a much travelled book ... from Grenfell in 1920 to Station Road, Finchley.

"My Grandfather died in 1938 and Grandmother in 1956. The book then passed into the safe keeping of my father, their youngest son. My sister and I inherited it in 1991. Now it has travelled back from Finchley to Grenfell 74 years later, and gives us this wonderful occasion to meet the Grenfell folk and their descendants (together with a few Harveyson cousins) for the first time. A handsome object, bound in leather and surmounted on the front with my grandparents initials in Grenfell gold, and inside the most beautiful art work with your grandparents signatures. You must be very proud of them for having the vision to produce such a beautifully crafted article.

"Together with the book, a beautiful silver bag was given to my grandmother which she always treasured and I have a photo with me taken in 1927, on the occasion of my parent's wedding, of Grandma, looking very regal - she was a woman of some presence - with the silver bag as part of a very elegant outfit. That bag was passed to my mother and now I am its proud possessor, and it is of great sentimental value to me. It will be passed on to our daughter, Jill, and then to our grand-daughter.

"I wonder what else went on at 87 Station Road? I learnt very little from my grandmother, mostly my information came from Grenfell. My father, who was 16 years old in 1914, often spoke with relish of the many nightly sorties to different Finchley pubs with Australian boys and the trouble they had returning to the house without disturbing his parents. I hope that some of you will be able to furnish me with news of further escapades.

"In the letter from Jim Durning, Mayor of Grenfell, sent to my grand parents in 1920, he said...."if at some future time you contemplate a visit to Australia, you will surely - receive a very warm welcome from Grenfell folk" and Ian Pitt reminded me of this and wrote: "you as their representative will also be made welcome". And what a welcome!! I expected I would just hand over the book to the Historical Society and meet a few of the members, but of course Grenfell folk do not do things that way. This is the way they do it!!

"Jim and I would like to say a big thank you for this most enjoyable evening, for the generous hospitality extended to us, and particularly to the members of the Historical Society, who have worked so hard with all the arrangements. Two brothers, Charles and Harry Harveyson, living 10,000 miles away from one another, formed a friendship between Finchley and Grenfell, which I hope is as strong to-day as it was all those years ago."

Material for this article was produced by Bruce Robinson, President of the Grenfell Historical Society

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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Harveyson family provided Grenfell volunteers with home from home, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 24 July 2024, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories/australians-wartime/harveyson-family-provided-grenfell-volunteers-home-home
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