Upper Murray ANZAC 1919-2019

by 

Honor Auchinleck

In the Upper Murray, Anzac Day 1919 passed apparently unnoticed.  At least it wasn’t remarked upon in the Corryong Courier.  Doubtless on a personal level, memories and images of those young men fighting against the odds against an overwhelming enemy on Gallipoli’s rugged ridges haunted not only those who had returned but also the parents of those whose sons had been wounded and worse, those who lay in foreign soil.  Tragic losses on Gallipoli were compounded by the shocking attrition rate on the Western Front.  Few, if any needed reminding.

 

During the early months of 1919, the local community might have been divided between people by those whose sons had survived the war, those whose had loved ones had been killed and others, whose loved ones had been wounded.  Every family had its own individual experiences and some were harder than others.  During the early months, the news was punctuated by reports that welcome home parties were being planned for the returned soldiers.  As local men returned, the focus would have turned gradually to their experiences and how they fitted back into their families and their communities.

 

The ‘Originals’ those who went to war in 1914, would have discovered that four years is a long time to be away.  They and others would have found that serving in a conflict can play around with one’s mind and outlook on life with all its wants and needs becoming more acute.

 

As if the war had not brought suffering enough, the years 1911 to 1915 had been drought years. Drought again returned to some states between 1918 and 1920.

By the summer of 1919, fire, sometimes called ‘the red steer’ had come to haunt the Upper Murray.  On Thursday 30th January, the Corryong Courier reported, ‘Never in the history of the Murray have such fires occurred as during the past week.  As reported last week the whole district was surrounded by a chain of fires, and one of those had come across from Berringama to Cudgewa.’

 

By  13th February 1919, ‘Pneumonic Influenza’ was reported in the Courier, with Council passing a resolution  ‘prohibiting the travelling public from infected areas entering the Towong Shire.’  Furthermore, ‘Arrangements were being made for public inoculation, the Council paying the doctors’ mileage fees to out-districts.’   

 

Ships carrying returned servicemen were quarantined to prevent the spread of influenza.  Border crossings over the Murray were closed.  Public meetings were also discouraged to prevent the spread of the disease.  According to Neil Radford in ‘The Beginnings of Anzac Day’ (2014) in Sydney, the Anzac Day parade was cancelled and while there was a commemorative service in the Domain, ‘Participants were required to wear gas masks and to stand three feet apart.’

(The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 April 1919: 4)

Light Horseman Cyril Harris survived the First World War only to be killed in an aeroplane crash in 1921

Many servicemen from the Upper Murray had not returned after the War in time for Anzac Day 1919.  On Thursday 1st May 1919, a Corryong Courier article entitled ‘Our Boys’ reported, ‘Among our soldiers who will land about 6th May are M. Phillips, W. Greenhill, Jas. Seaton and F. McKenzie. Anzac Farrier Sergeant Charlie Hamilton landed yesterday.   The Cudgewa correspondent recorded that Sapper Harold Taylor, ‘reached Melbourne last week, but his boat has been quarantined.’  The article goes on to list others who are expected home.  Throughout the months ahead other articles appeared announcing the district’s returning soldiers and nurses.  Some articles add a little gossip.  On Thursday 15th May the Corryong Courier reported ‘It is rumoured that Anzac George Simpson who is at present in quarantine, is bringing an English bride with him’!  On 19th May the Courier noted that ‘Nurse Ivy Bartlett was welcomed home with a ‘most successful function’ organized by the Returned Soldiers and Sailors League.

With thousands of Australian servicemen still in England awaiting repatriation, Anzac Day 1919 in London had taken on a very lively form with the Argus reporting on Monday 28th April, ‘Stirring Street Scenes’ ‘when the Australians commenced their Anzac Day Parade’.  The 1919 Anzac Day Parade was let by ‘Lieut General Sir John Monash and Major General J J T Hobbs.  A thousand other Australians were lined along the route including a number who had lost limbs and used self propelling bath chairs.’ On Tuesday 29th April, the reports in the Argus became more exciting with the article reading, ‘the most striking feature of the Anzac celebrations in London were the hair-raising feats performed in the air by Australian pilots, particularly a pilot in a red Sopwith machine, which was promptly named ‘the Red Devil’.  Apparently, ‘it travelled at terrible speed and looped and dived almost among the chimney pots.’ Clearly health and safety hadn’t been thought of and it wasn’t about to pour cold water on our boys.

In early winter 1919, there might have been growing concern in the Upper Murray as the community faced the possibility of influenza gaining an even tougher grip on the community.   As it was the fledgling hospital, having only been founded three years earlier in 1916, was struggling to handle the epidemic.  According to the Albury Banner on 15th August 1919 under the headline ‘Corryong’ reported that, ‘In outlying portions whole families in some cases were prostrated at once.  The local hospital is full there being about 22 in it at present.  Last week Mrs P Smedley and Miss Mary Maddison died of influenza supervened by pneumonia and on Saturday morning 9th instant Mr Archibald Gay succumbed to the same.’  Mr Archibald Gay is buried in the Corryong Cemetery.  Other districts suffered too with Albury recording 263 cases of influenza with 10 deaths. Tumbarumba experienced nine cases of the virus resulting in two deaths. Unsurprisingly the 1918-1919 Influenza epidemic has been described as one of the greatest natural disasters in history.  Around 11,500 Australians died of the disease while there were between 50 million and 100 million fatalities worldwide.

 

By Anzac Day 1919, the Upper Murray was on the cusp of one of the most bittersweet years it had ever known.  On one hand, the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28th June 1919 brought a formal end to conflict and the Upper Murray was welcoming home ‘Our Boys’.  On the other hand there had been one of the worst bushfires in memory and the Influenza epidemic was about to threaten the very survival of war survivors and their families alike.  There must have been moments in that year when people in the Upper Murray thought that their luck had turned sour.  Yet, for all that the First World War and the Influenza epidemic left a legacy from which many still benefit today. 

 

In 1916 the Returned Sailors and Soldiers’ Imperial League (RSSILA) was formed.  Today’s RSSILA successor the Returned Soldiers’ League (RSL) continues to look after the interests of Returned Service personnel.  Legacy was founded in 1923 as a result of a World War One digger promising his mate that his family would be looked after.  It is a charity that looks after families who are disadvantaged financially and socially as a result of the death of a parent or spouse who has served in the Armed Forces.  The War and the Influenza epidemic were some of the catalysts and RSL and Legacy have risen to the challenge to provide for welfare needs, thus setting an example to the nation.  

 

Perhaps some of the medical advances made during the First World War seem less momentous now in the light of subsequent developments. Nonetheless the First World War was a catalyst for invention with the Thomas splint being used to stabilise fractured thighs.  Antiseptics were developed as a result of doctors and nurses having to cope with widespread infections in military hospitals.  Psychiatry was brought to the forefront with the need to care for shell shock and trauma cases.  While X-ray was used in Casualty Clearing Stations during the Boer War, when it was put into motorised vehicles, its use became more widespread during the First World War.  

 

The fact that lessons had been learned that would benefit subsequent generations must have brought little comfort to those mourning, or having to care for a wounded serviceman who had returned to the family fold and then having to cope with the scourge of influenza. 

 

On a more positive note, returned servicemen helped build the Cudgewa Railways and were employed on other infrastructure projects.

 

This Anzac Day we have plenty upon which to focus including the lessons from the First World War and how the world coped with its challenges.  More immediately there is a sense of foreboding and uncertainty about political fragmentation and growing trouble spots throughout the world.  Medical professionals still warn of the possibility of another Influenza pandemic. Bushfires still pose a risk to our communities and farmlands.  Disappointingly during the recent summer some were lit on purpose.   A cynic might ask if anything has really changed in the last century?  There are some similarities but today’s challenges are also very different.  If nothing else, it would be good to think that we are perhaps better prepared to meet our challenges than our forefathers were at the time of the outbreak of the First World War.  But are we? Perhaps our cadets are stepping in the right direction and our Emergency Services do their best to protect our communities.

Read more here in the Corryong College 'Lighthorsemen of the Upper Murray' project

Archibald Gay was a victim of the influenza epidemic and is buried in his family tomb

Writer Lieutenant Albert Bartlett succumbed to his wounds in 1919.  His sister Ivy Bartlett was a First World War Nurse.  Their father Sidney Bartlett was secretary of the local hospital.