Our Students Wrote a Book
I obtained a quote from our local printer, North West Press, to print 460 copies of a book of 136 pages. It would cost us $7250. It fitted in our budget. We already had a kitty of just over $4000 from sales of our 2003 book Gallipoli Heroes. The grant would boost this to $7000. We intended to donate 200 books to schools, RSLs and Historical Societies. The postage costs were $5.10 per book. This added a further $1020. The gap would be covered by selling the rest of the books.
On 13 June I received a letter from Project Support & Grants, Department of Veterans’ Affairs acknowledging our application, which would be considered by the advisory committee at its next meeting in late June. Their recommendations would be passed to the Minister, the Hon Bruce Billson MP. This process would take six to eight weeks.
In the interim our research would be compiled ready for printing. The middle school unit students were given the task of scrolling the photographic collection of the AWM website for photos relating to Beersheba, the 4th LHR and individual soldiers. On 13 September an email was forwarded to the eSales Unit, AWM, requesting permission to use two images in the book. The copyright on photos of soldiers had lapsed and did not require approval. Permission to use the images of the two chosen photos was received the next day.
On 21 September the college was notified that it had been successful in obtaining a grant of $3000 to publish a book titled Beersheba Heroes. This was interesting as no title was mentioned in our application……. The committee must have done some due diligence, as our previous two books that had been printed assisted by grants from DVA were called Fallen Heroes and Gallipoli Heroes……. The Year 11 students voted to call the book Beersheba.
Final Touch: Warracknabeal Secondary College history teacher, Graeme Massey and students (from left) Jessica Ross, Ellie Baxter and Lauren Lehmann discuss the final touches of their book on the “Battle of Beersheba” with North West Press manager, Geoff Ward (left) and compositor Scott Stewart (front).
My students were excited to become published authors. They took photos of each other at the computer and refined the material ready for publication. It was a tight time-line as we wanted to have the book out before 31 October, five weeks away.
North West Press staff was most co-operative. They had the presses rolling by mid-October and the books were delivered to the college ten days before the end of the month.
News articles had appeared in the local paper on two occasions since September announcing the grant and informing people of book’s availability for $15. It was no surprise that some letters and emails requesting copies had already been received. The first week of its release, 48 copies were sold and our budget deficit was gone.
Two hundred and ten complimentary copies were sent to the RSLs, Historical Societies, Family History Groups and schools throughout Victoria - places where the chargers had lived. A carton of twenty books was donated to both the Creswick Light Horse Group and the Horsham Light Horse to assist them with their fundraising.
The students who had been group leaders in 2005, 2006 and 2007 were given a copy. There were only about 150 books left………..
Requests for books had been steady and by the end of the school year in December there was only one carton left. It was decided not to sell any more until we returned to college in February 2008.
Awards and responses
Well, my mailbox was full when I came back after the holidays! Most letters were thanking the college for the donation of a book, many of them including additional information about individuals.
The Victorian Government, through Information Victoria, announce their annual Victorian Community History Awards each May. The college entered Beersheba in the Best Community Research, Registers & Records category for publications printed during 2007. It was the third occasion the school had submitted an entry. Fallen Heroes won the award in 2003 and Gallipoli Heroes was successful in 2005.
Perhaps we could capture the hat-trick? Not to be…... but the book was shortlisted and received a commendation certificate. Still a great honour, as entries for the award has increased dramatically over the years since 2003.
The Royal Historical Society of Victoria had favourably reviewed Beersheba in their February-March 2008 issue, “a splendid demonstration of what can be done by middle school students in history using the resources of the internet…”
In 2009, Rupanyup RSL wanted to honour James Lawson and other men from the former Dunmunkle Shire who had served with the 4th LHR, especially those who took part in the charge at Beersheba. I helped with their research and provided the names of 41 men who served with the 4th LHR. The RSL applied and received a grant to erect a memorial to commemorate this and the memorial was unveiled on Saturday 31 October by Lawson’s granddaughter. David Holloway the historian of the modern Army Reserve unit (4th/19th Prince of Wales’s Light Horse) who are their successors, was the guest speaker.
I corresponded with David Holloway and found that men from Camel Corps reinforcements had been posted to the 4th LHR prior to Beersheba. An email from Gary Johnson suggested that Steve Becker had been researching chargers at Beersheba and had posted his names on the Australian Light Horse Association forum website. I cross-referenced these additional names with our book and discovered that a further 56 men may have been with 4th LHR chargers on 31 October. Of course, I forwarded this list to 4/19 PWLH for its historical collection/museum in December 2015. We knew that some names would be overlooked and are grateful that this has now been remedied.
Some last thoughts
I would love it if other schools took on similar research.
As teachers know, student motivation often comes from a sense of relevance (some of ours were direct ancestors of Light Horsemen, some had neighbours who were, others live near where a trooper had lived long ago).
Keep any research simple enough and achievable.
A limit, like a focus on one particular town or district, would be useful.
Websites with advanced databases like NAA and AWM need some introduction and guidance when students first try to use them.
 There are many individual Light Horse Unit histories that provide extensive rolls listing all those who served, often with quite full details about them (eg more recently published in 2011 , the history of 4th LH Regiment 1914-19 called ‘Endure and Fight’ by Dr. David Holloway)