Box holds amaz­ing sur­prises

Central and North Burnett Times - - NEWS REMEMBRANCE DAY - Erica Mur­ree erica.mur­ree@cnbtimes.com.au

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

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