World War One Memorials in Schools of Arts and Mechanics' Institutes

“So much more than a humble hall”

“A man’s destination is not his destiny,
Every country is home to one man
And exile to another. Where a man dies bravely
At one with his destiny, that soil is his.
Let his village remember.”

— T.S. Eliot

 And the Communities of NSW did remember

Last year the world marked the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli on April 25th 1915. By the end of the First World War there were very few people in the countries that took part, who remained unaffected. The war reached out and touched almost everyone’s life in some way or other.

Children grew up in the shadow of battle, their fathers absent or lost. Women were mobilized in unprecedented numbers on all sides. The vast majority of these women were drafted into the civilian work force to replace conscripted men or to work in greatly expanded munitions factories. Thousands more served in the military in mostly in support roles but some saw action as nurses. The power unleashed by the first really modern war resulted in previously unimagined losses. Over 9 million soldiers died as a result of the fighting. Food shortages sometimes inflicted by blockades and sometimes resulting from failed harvests, weakened the people who remained on the home fronts. Nearly 6 million civilians died from disease or starvation. Almost one million more were killed as a direct result of military operations. In all, the estimate of dead directly resulting from the war stands at over 16 million.

Australia and the War

Though those at home in Australia were spared most of the more horrendous collateral damage suffered by those on whose lands the war was actually fought, the Australian war casualties were really quite horrendous. Remember that the Australian population at that time was approximately 4.9 million. Around 420,000 Australians volunteered for service in the war, representing almost 40 per cent of the male population aged between18 and 44. Of that number, 335,000 embarked for active service, 60,284 died and 155,133 were wounded in action. At 65 per cent, the Australian casualty rate (proportionate to total embarkations) was among the highest of any nation in the war.

Schools of Arts/Mechanics’ Institutes and the First World War

By the time of the First World War, the School/Institutes movement in NSW was at its peak both in terms of number of Schools/Institutes and their level of activity. These Schools and Institutes had little to do with the scientific/technological education of the artisan class. They, however, had a lot to do with providing, in the then new suburbs and towns, a local home, no matter how modest, for reading, learning, culture, civic action, recreation, and entertainment. Further, these Schools and Institutes provided a social focus to the lives of the inhabitants of these suburbs and towns – a focus sorely needed, given the almost complete absence of any other local social infrastructure.

During war, soldiers were farewelled and welcomed back home in the local School or Institute hall. Patriotic and fundraising events were held in the hall. Groups met in the local School or Institute to knit socks, to knot camouflage nets or to pack “comfort” parcels for soldiers serving overseas and prisoners of war. In many localities, the School or Institute was the only public building beside the local public school. Therefore, many of the local WWI Memorials or Rolls of Honour, at the end of the War, were located in and/or co-located with the local School or Institute.

Moreover, because of an outpouring of patriotic fervor and local pride some Schools or Institutes were renamed as the Soldiers’ Hall and some new Schools of this period were built as Soldiers’ Memorial Schools of Arts; Campbelltown, Guildford, Liverpool and Sutherland to name but a few Sydney examples.

The Project

There will be a number of events, designed to mark Australia’s involvement in this great European war, associated with the 100th anniversary of WW I over the period from 2014 to 2019. There will also be a number of publications presenting new perspectives on the events of 100 years ago.

It was in this context that AMISA decided that it would pursue, as a major project for 2014/5, the collection, collation and publication on the Association’s website of the details of WW I memorials that are in and/or co-located with a School of Arts or Mechanics” Institute in the state of New South Wales.

Letters were sent to the Schools and Institutes believed to have such memorials. Robert Parkinson and Roger Morris were responsible for the collating and compiling the useable replies that were received.

In preparing the material for the website they used a variety of sources of information. These sources included [in addition to the responses received from the Schools/Institutes] contemporary newspaper reports, local histories, local studies librarians and local historical societies.

In the interests of conciseness and readability, these sources have not been specifically footnoted. However, the work of all researchers and photographers is gratefully acknowledged.

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