About 60 people gathered on a glorious autumn morning at the Diggers’ Memorial in Glebe, to commemorate Anzac Day 2016. The Rev Anthony Walsh OP led the service, beginning with an acknowledgement of country. The Lament was played by Rob McLean. Lydia Bushell distributed sprigs of rosemary from Legacy.

The address was given by Max Solling. The following is the text of his remarks:

This morning I’d like to look back at the war memorial movement, and especially how it impacted on the Glebe landscape. As survivors of the AIF sailed home, people all over Australia were planning to honour both the returning soldiers and their dead comrades. The term ‘war memorial’ was novel, not applicable until after the Armistice when the war had become a past experience. The memorial was created to stand as a community’s statement of bereavement, pride and thanksgiving. Testimony of the magnitude of the movement is the 1,445 memorials across the landscape of Australia.

Memorials built within five kilometres of the Sydney CBD were completed between 1920 and 1924, at least fourteen, and two significant ones a little later at Sydney University (1928) and the Cenotaph in Martin Place (1929). But there were early exceptions. The Drinking Fountain/Light on a pedestal at Balmain was unveiled in April 1916, and a monument surmounted by the figure of a soldier at Rozelle Tramway Depot was unveiled in November 1916.

Church, school, work and sporting organisations installed honour boards recording the names of men who had gone to war. Balmain Council commissioned an honour board before the Gallipoli landing in 1915, and at Glebe its first honour board was unveiled by Premier Holman on 19 February 1916 with 130 names. At this time Glebe Council indicated they would give preference in employment to returned men. Three more honour boards in wartime Glebe were installed at the Glebe Road Methodist Church in 1916, at Johnny Meloy’s Lombard St carrying yards in 1917 and at the Glebe branch of the Red Cross in 1918.

Honour boards and rolls became huge scoreboards of commitment intended to encourage other men to follow. And they did. After 1918 further boards appeared at Glebe Presbyterian Church (1919), at Glebe Rowing Club (1920), Forest Lodge School (1921) and at the rear of St Johns Bishopthorpe in 1922. And on 26 June 1922 in the foyer of Glebe Town Hall the roll of honour of 792 names etched in bronze in columns was unveiled by General Ryrie who also presented a German gun to the municipality. The Glebe board was produced by Wunderlich, which stamped out boards standard in form and individual inscriptions.

Glebe Mayor Finlay Munro called a public meeting at Glebe Town Hall on 3 April 1919 ‘for the citizens of Glebe to consider the question of erecting a suitable memorial to Glebe soldiers who have fought in the Great War’.

Glebe’s memorial was to be in the form of a cenotaph shrine, and a War Memorial committee chaired by town clerk Tom Glasscock, architect William Martin and William Brown, its secretary. Martin prepared the plans and specification and supervised erection of the Glebe memorial free of cost.

Pupils of Glebe Public School contributed a penny a week towards their own memorial during the war so by 1919 the school was ready to begin; there were plenty of contributors since 1,380 pupils were enrolled there in 1921. At the foundation stone laying in Derwent St on 19 October 1919, one speaker said ‘some 600 soldiers who had been pupils of the school had ‘fought for justice, freedom and Christian civilisation’. The memorial records 306 names. Tom Herlihy, Glebe headmaster from 1906 to 1923, said he could not recall an occasion on which he was more proud to be an Australian. Honorary architect William Martin’s memorial took the form of a polished column, surmounted by the bust of a digger in marble, the work of Nelson Illingworth.

The Glebe memorial committee raised money by appeals in the press, and from door to door canvassing, a job often assigned to women. They had more time than men, so men said, and were harder to refuse. Civic activities were dislocated in 1919 due to the influenza epidemic, and when it passed, fundraisers complained that patriotic generosity never returned to previous heights. Glebe Workingmen’s Institute and the committee held galas and fairs on Saturdays at Jubilee Park, Glebe Rowing Club staged a patriotic regatta, and fetes and dances at Record Reign hall were also well publicised in the cause of extracting money from citizens at large.

As the money came in the committee pondered where in the civic landscape was the memorial to be placed? It was a source of much agonising. In January 1920 Glebe Council discussed the intersection of Glebe Point Rd and Broadway (the fountain reserve) as a possible site. By August 1920 the corner of St Johns Rd and Derwent St had come under consideration. However there was popular acceptance of a site fronting Glebe Point Rd adjoining St Johns Church as the most prominent and accessible place. The landowner, the Department of Education, agreed to give the site for a memorial in March 1921. The sarcophagus, placed outside, served as the foundation stone of the Glebe monument that the Governor General Lord Foster laid on 3 June 1921.

The Glebe memorial was unveiled by Lord Foster on Anzac Day 1922 and Lady Foster unveiled the busts of the soldier and sailor. It was ’a day of triumph rather than a day of mourning’ said Lord Foster. ‘… at Gallipoli the Anzacs set a standard of heroism and daring that inspired Australians’.

The Glebe monument was a complex form, and possibly unique. Some were not enamoured with its design. It is a granite and marble mausoleum with busts, echoing the shape of an Egyptian temple with classic Greek touches following the tradition of mixing Christian and classical imagery. It possesses some distinctive aspects. It is rare for a soldier to be accompanied by a sailor because the RAN had only 5000 men in a few notable actions. It is also a very Australian monument; neither the Empire nor Britain is represented. The Carrara marble angel guards those symbolically resting in the mausoleum. Under this is a simple and understated dedication: ‘Erected by Glebe Residents in Memory of the Glorious Dead’. The memorial cost £2,500. The cost of most projects in Australia ranged from £100 to £1,000 according to Inglis. The Glebe debt was not eliminated until 1923, and responsibility for maintenance of the monument was assumed by Glebe Council on Anzac Day 1924.

William Martin, Glebe alderman from 1923 to 1925 and anti-conscriptionist, was a vice-president of the Institute of Architects in 1885-1887, and maintained a Glebe architectural practice for about twenty-five years. The war memorial he designed at Mascot was also topped with a granite orb, embellished with bronze mountings and a Victoria Cross in the form of a clasp. Martin submitted a scheme for beautification of Jubilee Park, Glebe in 1924 comprising construction of a stadium, swimming pool, lawn tennis courts and bowling green. He died at Glebe on 14 November 1937, aged 85.

It is thought the bust of the Glebe Digger (modelled by Matthew Fardy) and the jolly jack of the HMAS Sydney were carved by Alessandro Casagrande who had emigrated from the Veneto region of Italy shortly before the war, in response to news that Sydney had plenty of work for a man of his craft. Based at Hurstville, Casagrande was employed by monumental masons Anselm Odling of Surry Hills.

Max Solling

The wreath created by Glebe artist, Louise Graber, as it lies upon the sarcophagus of the Glebe Diggers Memorial (photo: V. Simpson-Young)
The wreath created by Glebe artist, Louise Graber, as it lies upon the sarcophagus of the Glebe Diggers Memorial (photo: V. Simpson-Young)
The main wreath for the service – that rests on the Memorial’s sarcophagus – was created by Glebe artist, Louise Graber. Louise is a longtime resident of Glebe and has contributed her artistic skills to the Anzac Ceremony for many years.