Box holds amazing surprises
A SURPRISE family discovery inspired one man to write a musical based on wartime history.
When Mark Roberts’ parents Lyn and Chris retired to Biggenden, it was a return to familiar ground as his mother’s family were from the Gayndah area.
Once settled, they were gifted a seemingly everyday item that held unexpected secrets – a box.
“A distant relative, Myrtle Anderson, who lived in Biggenden asked Mum if she would like the box as it had been under a bed for more than 30 years and was destined for the dump,” Mr Roberts said.
“Mum opened the box to discover a treasure trove of memorabilia from her great-grandfather William Marshall senior and his two sons, Alban, who she didn’t know about, and William junior.
“William Snr had fought in the Suez Canal campaign as a seaman in the British Navy.
“When the family moved to Australia, he settled at Wetheron,” Mr Roberts said.
“Someone had gathered into the box many of the letters, postcards, photographs, Alban’s dog tags and other memorabilia sent home by William Jnr and Alban while at war between 1915 and 1918.”
William Jnr enlisted in February 1915 and served for almost the entire war, returning home wounded in 1918.
Alban enlisted in 1916 but would not return, killed in Ypres, Belgium, on May 26, 1917. He is buried in Strand Cemetery in Belgium.
Mr Roberts said he was in awe the first time he opened the box.
“I was holding some of the few remaining thoughts, ideas and hopes of people long dead in my hands,” he said.
“People I was related to who had lived more than 100 years ago and, in the case of Alban, someone who died fighting for our nation.
“I was immediately intrigued and convinced these needed to see the light of day.”
Reading the words on the bottom of a scroll found in the box – “Let those who come after see to it that his name is not forgotten” – inspired Mark to investigate further.
He said it was his mother’s hope the material would be preserved and used for educational purposes.
With this in mind, he approached his school about how the contents could be used in class.
He then discovered the Queensland Anzac Centenary grants program and the History in a Box project was born.
With the support of this grant and Emmaus College, where Mr Roberts teaches, the 290 objects have been preserved.
Mr Roberts was also inspired to write a musical set in Gayndah and produce a documentary.
The musical, a moving story about love, loneliness and the importance of mail to the women at home, was performed at the Pilbeam Theatre on October 20 and 21 to rave reviews.
Chris Roberts saw his son’s work but sadly Lyn passed away last year.
Some of the fascinating contents of the box.
OUT OF THE BOX: Jesse Warren and Sophie Moffat star in Emmaus College production The Home Front at the Pilbeam Theatre. PHOTOS: CONTRIBUTED