This year the Glebe Society ceremony for Remembrance Day was held behind the Diggers’ Memorial in the D.J. Foley Rest Park. The new venue was chosen to lessen the impact of traffic noise from Glebe Point Rd, and to allow participants to gather together in the shade.
The ceremony marked the centenary of a year that saw tragic losses by Australian troops fighting on the Western Front. In April and May of 1917 over 10,000 Australians were killed in the Battle of Bullecourt in France, which was described by the official historian Charles Bean as ‘the battle more than any other, that shook the confidence of Australian soldiers in the capacity of the British command’.
Councillor Jess Scully representing the City of Sydney said in her opening remarks, ‘Australia was only 16 years old as a nation in 1917, and had fewer than five million residents, but in that year alone 22,000 Australians lost their lives in the war, while huge political and economic upheaval took place at home.’
Councillor Scully said, ‘it can feel very distant for those of us whose families only arrived in Australia in the last few decades, or those who don’t have a family connection to the brutal battles that shaped last century. We pass by these memorials in every village and town, sometimes not knowing what they’re commemorating.’
In his remarks, the Society’s President, Allan Hogan noted that over 200 men from Glebe and Forest Lodge had died in the War. He referred to the names on the interior wall of the Memorial, and observed that many of them had died as teenagers. He said that a map showing the known addresses of the Glebe men who died showed that ‘death had touched nearly every street in the community’. ‘In a close community, as Glebe was back then, the grief is unimaginable’.
Referring to a serviceman who had lived within a few doors of his home in Boyce St, Allan discovered that he had been the organist and choirmaster at St John’s. Reginald Morgan joined the 19th Australian Infantry Battalion and fought in France. He died at the age of 29 in November 1916 and was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry under heavy fire as a signaller. At his memorial service at St John’s the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the choir had sung some of his favourite hymns.
Allan also referred to Private Robert Brown, who went to Forest Lodge Public School and died of wounds sustained during the Battle of Bullecourt at the age of 27. His citation for the Military Medal said ‘Private Brown worked continuously for 24 hours carrying wounded through heavy fire and set a splendid example of courage and devotion to duty to the squad of stretcher bearers of whom he had charge.’
Allan said, ‘they’re just two of the stories that go with the names on the honour rolls, and you realise that like Reginald Morgan and Robert Brown every name is a story of sacrifice and loss, and of family tragedy that left its mark for generations.’
After the traditional period of silence to honour the sacrifice and courage of all Australians who had served in all the theatres of war, Glebe historian Max Solling spoke of how in 1919 the local community grappled with the proper way to remember their lost generation. (See the full text of Max’s speech here: https://www.glebesociety.org.au/?p=13382). He referred to the many European poets and novelists who questioned the nature of war, and its significance to Western culture.
At the conclusion of Max’s speech, participants moved to the front of the Memorial where Councillor Scully and Allan Hogan laid wreaths presented by the City Council and the Glebe Society.
Former President of the Glebe Society, Ted McKeown, recited the traditional ode taken from the fourth stanza of the poem For the Fallen written in 1914 by the British poet Laurence Binyon.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.