Granite Belt and the Western Front

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Granite Belt and the Western Front

Links that remain long after the end of war

All around Stanthorpe, on the Granite Belt in Queensland, names of towns and local areas evoke images of battles on the Western Front in World War I. But how did these battles become part of the geographic namescape of the Granite Belt?

Of the 39 local men remembered with honour on the Stanthorpe World War I Memorial, 30 lost their lives on the Western Front. They died in the Battles of Pozieres, Bullecourt, Messines, and, most of all, in the horror known as Passchendaele. They died all along the Western Front at places with less familiar names, such as Armentieres, Dernancourt, Delville Wood, Villers-Bretonneux, Mont St Quentin, and Peronne.

Sadly, some died even after the war ended. Sapper Burchall Dinham-Peren, of Stanthorpe, died of pneumonia in March 1919 and is buried in Charleroi, near Brussels, Belgium. Sergeant Lionel Lee died of typhus in April 1919 and is buried in the Ismalia War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt. Lionel was the son of Charles Lee who was the State Member for Tenterfield for 35 years.

For those soldiers who survived these battles and returned to Australia, many moved to live at the Pikedale Soldier Settlement Scheme on the Granite Belt. A community was created to support the returned servicemen in their difficult venture, each having taken on a sizable debt of £625 to purchase and run their farming block (Long 2014, 3). The Amiens Branch Railway was built to link this new community with the main Southern Line running between Warwick and Stanthorpe. The Queensland Railway Department, the Lands Department, and the PMG Department decided that the sidings along the branch line would be named Fleurbaix, Pozieres, Bullecourt, Passchendaele, Bapaume, and Messines, with the terminus being Amiens.

Today when we look at the railway siding signs at the Stanthorpe Heritage Museum, we understand better why these place names were chosen for the Amiens Branch Railway. These were the scenes of some of the great battles fought by the Australian Imperial Force (A.I.F.) in Belgium and France. They are the battlefields where men from Stanthorpe and the Granite Belt died and are buried today. They are names that remind us of the sacrifice of these men and the hardship and despair faced by their families and friends.

When the Pikedale Settlement Scheme was being finalised, many names for the railway sidings were considered. The local State Member of Parliament Donald Gunn made the case for the terminus to be named Diggerthorpe as he thought this name was favourably similar to Stanthorpe and Applethorpe (John Kerr, 1994). A. Clarke, who was the officer-in-charge of the Pikedale Settlement, thought it was fitting to name the sidings after Queensland’s Victoria Cross winners and the terminus after General Birdwood, Commander of the A.I.F. at Gallipoli and later I Anzac Corps on the Western Front. It was also proposed to name the terminus Romani, after the battle fought east of the Suez Canal in August 1916 where the Anzac Mounted Division fought off an attack by 14,000 Turkish troops (Bean 1946, 277). Corporal Frank Curran, of Tenterfield, was killed in action at the Battle of Romani and is remembered on both the Stanthorpe and Tenterfield War Memorials. “Romani” was not chosen as it was considered to be easily confused with the western Queensland town of Roma. Cambrai was also considered because of the Battle of Cambrai, fought on the Western Front in 1917. This battle involved for the first time the use of tanks in large numbers. Cambrai was not chosen because there was a town of that name in South Australia (Long 2014, 28).

In 1919, George D. Grant, writing from Thulimbah, suggested:

I feel sure that the soldier selectors would most heartily endorse the idea of naming the stations on this new line after the notable battlefields in Gallipoli, France, and Palestine… a station site has been located at 4 miles on the new line. It is some 3105 feet or 75 feet higher than “The Summit” (3030ft) and this will be the highest station in the Southern and Central districts… what could more fittingly commemorate the battlefield “Mons St Quentin” [sic] where it may be truly said the Australians reached the highest point in their brilliant career. (Long 2014, 28)

The Battle of Mont St Quentin and Peronne, as mentioned by Grant, was fought by the A.I.F. in September 1918 and was described by General Sir Archibald Montgomery as “a triumph for the Australian Corps” (Billett 1999, 118).

So, following much deliberation involving government departments, local committees and the community, the names of the railway sidings were determined to be Fleurbaix, Pozieres, Bullecourt, Passchendaele, Bapaume, Messines, and Amiens. Men from Queensland fought in every one of the “railway siding battles”. For the returning servicemen these names would have provoked memories of hardship, loss, and despair. These were the battles where many of their mates lost their lives and the returning soldiers were left to carry the physical and mental scars for the rest of their lives. Those now living at the soldier settlement would have drawn on the courage they showed in battle as they began the tough task of scraping a living out of the cleared bushland that was now their home.

However, the Pikedale Soldier Settlement was not a place of sadness. Jack Meek, who served with 4th Pioneer Battalion and was the surveyor for the Pikedale scheme, wrote in Benchmarks & Boundaries:

The names of the proposed stations on this branch were taken from battlefields of World War 1 where the A.I.F. had fought. The other Passchendaele was fresh in my memory as a barren landscape of mud, trenches, jagged tree stumps and heaps of rubble from ruined houses. It was traversed by plank roads which had been put down by our pioneer battalions and which were lined with broken ammunition wagons and dead mules. Everywhere there was a stench of death. By contrast, the marvellous peace and solitude of The Granite Belt’s Passchendaele was like a healing balm.

The Somme, was another soldier settlement established near Ballandean, south of Stanthorpe. It was named after the great Battle of the Somme that began in July 1916 and resulted in more than one million men being wounded and killed. The Battle of the Somme was a series of many battles fought over a five-month period and included the Battles of Fleurbaix and Pozieres.

Hence, the returning soldiers’ journey had taken a full circle: those who made the journey back to the Granite Belt were now living in places that to this day share their name with towns and villages of immense historical significance in France and Belgium. They are not so well known as Gallipoli but remain places of extreme Australian sacrifice; sacrifice which is still remembered and commemorated today by the French and Belgian people living in these towns and villages.

Their Name Liveth for Evermore

The completion of the story of Sergeant Lionel Lee, brought to an end the journey of researching the 39 soldiers remembered with honour on the Stanthorpe World War I Memorials. The goals of the project were quite straightforward; to first identify, then tell the story behind the simple list of initials and surnames recorded on the local memorials. Carved into the Stone of Remembrance in every Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery are the words “Their Name Liveth for Evermore”. Rudyard Kipling suggested this phrase from the King James Bible as being a fitting inscription for the many memorials built in the aftermath of World War I. The 39 stories are intended to provide a lasting record to assist in ensuring the local men are not forgotten.

The other goal of the project was to understand more clearly why the railway sidings on the Amiens Branch Railway were named Fleurbaix, Pozieres, Bullecourt, Passchendaele, Bapaume, and Messines. While researching the stories of the men who died, the association between them and the “railway siding battles” became increasingly apparent. These were the battlefields of Belgium and France where 30 of the soldiers remembered on the local memorials died. The sacrifice of these men, the devastation of their families, friends, and local community will be forever associated with these place names. This link forms an eternal bond between the communities of the Granite Belt and their namesakes in France and Belgium.

Such a sentiment was felt over one hundred years ago by Monsignor Andre du Bois de La Villerabel, Bishop of Amiens, France. One week before the signing of the Armistice, he addressed a congregation of the Australian 1st Division in the Church of Long, Somme:

As Bishop of Amiens, I owe you and your illustrious dead my heartfelt thanks because the land of my diocese has been your field of battle, and you have delivered it by the sacrifice of your blood… when Victory at last began to smile upon our arms, the Australian army distinguished itself by the audacity of its attacks, by its, utter disregard of death, by its doggedness, and by the rapidity of its advances.

 

Why did you leave your far away Australia? Because of your sentiments of loyalty towards the British Empire whose banner has protected the British Empire and the development of your country, its existence, its economic future and its civilization, for these were in jeopardy as well as the destinies of France.

 

On the field of battle, far away from your homes, the love of your country became stronger in your hearts, and children, who, during the coming centuries will grow up in your homes and schools, will learn through your great deeds the lessons of patriotism. They will not be able to pronounce your names without speaking of the towns, villages, tablelands, ridges and valleys of the Somme, where you have gathered the laurels of immortality.

 

Indissoluble links unite our two nations; a link of prayer because we will piously keep the tombs of your heroes; a link of friendship, because the freedom of my diocese has cost you so much blood, and a link of mutual admiration because the hearts of our soldiers, Australian and French, beat with the same love and with the same enthusiasm for the saintly cause whose final triumph will assure the future and development of our two countries.

Monsignor Andre du Bois de La Villerabel, the Bishop of Amiens - The Western Front

The Bishop of Amiens spoke of the shared pain and suffering of his diocese and many Australian communities. Stanthorpe was one such community affected dramatically by death and injury inflicted by World War I. It would have been impossible for any person in the district to not be affected. A family member, friend, or workmate who died could never have been far removed. The entire community felt the grief and sense of loss suffered by those families who lost loved ones. In particular, they understood the suffering of Peter and Mary Ann Hindmarsh, Joah and Ellen Potts, and Charles and Clara Lee who each lost two sons as a result of World War I.

The year 1917 was by far the worst of the war for the Granite Belt with 18 young men losing their lives, including a terrible two-week period in October when seven men died in the Battle of Passchendaele. All the grieving families had to remind them of these men was a package containing some personal possessions and hopefully a photograph of their grave. One hundred years ago there was little chance a family member would ever visit the graves of the men. Bart Ziino wrote,

Sixty thousand Australians died in the Great War of 1914-18. Those who mourned them experienced loss at a remove from the battlefields and the graves of their dead. Mourning lost sons, husbands, friends and lovers, whose bodies were buried half a world away, theirs was a distant grief. (Ziino 2007, 1)

The stories of the 39 men from the Granite Belt reflect the breadth of Australia’s participation in World War I. Away from the devastation of the Western Front, local men died in all theatres of battle. Their graves are dispersed across the Gallipoli peninsula, Egypt, Malta, Hamburg, and the Palestinian territories.

Each man had a unique story but these often contained themes that underlie much of the written history of World War I. For family reasons, men like William Shelford and Walter Potts enlisted under assumed names. Albert Jolly was aged just 17 when he enlisted and so became one of many boy soldiers from Australia. William Cammack and Michael O’Connor were fathers of young families and were destined to never to see them again. William Burns, Thomas Marstella, and Henry Williamson died within two weeks of joining the fighting on the frontline. Burchall Dinham-Peren and Lionel Lee died of illness in 1919, long after the end of the war.

The men who died came from all backgrounds; tin miners and farm labourers volunteered alongside the sons of English gentry and members of parliament. Many theories have been written as to why these men volunteered to fight in World War I. What is for certain is that their deaths left a lasting mark on their local communities. Historian, Bill Gammage, described the aftermath of the World War I in Australia as “one long national funeral for a generation and more” (Ziino 2007, 187).

Much is being done to ensure these men are not forgotten. The Granite Belt shares a history with namesake village and towns in France and Belgium, and together these communities are united in a passion to remember the sacrifice of the men and their families. Following the centenary of the Armistice, these community ties have never been stronger. The many poignant memorials located across the Western Front and the Granite Belt provide a physical reminder of this sacrifice for future generations. The “indissoluble links” envisioned by the Bishop of Amiens in 1918 are being cemented today through the efforts of many dedicated Australian, French and Belgian community volunteers. Their steadfast focus and unfailingly energy ensures the foundations of remembrance are set for another hundred years.

References

Bean, C.E.W. (1946). ANZAC to Amiens. 1st edition. Sydney. Halstead Press Pty Ltd.

Billett, B. (2009). Mont St Quentin A Soldier’s Battle. 1st edition. Sydney. Rosenberg Publishing Pty Ltd.

John Kerr. Queensland Railway Department meeting notes. Compiled 8 July 1994.

Long, L. (2014). Soldier Settlers of the Granite Belt. 1st edition. Toowoomba. Cracker Print and Paper Pty Ltd.

Meek J.H. (1991). Bench Marks & Boundaries. 1st edition. Brisbane. Hallett Brier.

Ziino,B. (2007). A Distant Grief. Australians, War Graves, and the Great War. 1st edition. Crawley. University of Western Australia Press.

Photographs

Stanthorpe Heritage Museum Amiens Branch Railway Sidings Sign.

Stanthorpe War Memorial.

Amiens Legacy Centre.

The Soldier Settler Story at Amiens State School.

Granite Belt Road Sign.

Pozieres State School.

The Somme, Granite Belt.

Passchendaele Forestry, Granite Belt.

Monsignor Andre du Bois de la Villerabel, Bishop of Amiens.

Church of Long, Somme.

The Roll of Honour