Discovering our war heroes
THE BAY BOYS By Fran Read ( self- published, fread@ southcom. com. au)
THE Bay Boys deals with the World War I Tasmanian East Coat volunteers, from Triabunna, Orford, Wielangta, Buckland and Runnymede.
It is about the spirit and ideals that drove rural Tasmanian communities during World War I.
It shows how they left their families, jobs and home comforts to travel to the other side of the world to serve their king and country.
Author Fran Read, a primary school teacher, gave her students an assignment to investigate the army records of those fallen as inscribed on the Triabunna War Memorial.
The work developed from there finishing with a substantial book.
In her foreword she writes: “I began with 14 names”, but eventually ended up with more than 80. On each she has a dossier, bringing the individual alive, providing information on their early life, their war service and, if returned, their post- war life.
It is incredible to realise how many men and one nurse served from such a small country area. Many of those who served were related to each other, the names keep cropping up time and time again, such as the Castles, Robinsons, Blacklows, Bresnehans and others.
The youngest who went away was only 16, while the eldest was 44. There are some interesting common threads with them.
Everyone was employed before their enlistment, showing the abundance of work, mainly of a rural nature. Just about all who enlisted were wounded at least once while at the front, many of them gassed. It is moving to read how, after recovering from their wounds, they were sent back to the front, on more than one occasion.
What is revealing was the number who suffered from illnesses, such as measles, pneumonia and venereal disease.
Their individual war conduct records are used as a source and these can be revealing, if not entertaining. Usually they were farewelled by a community event and welcomed back by such.
Most returned to Tasmania and a few lived to an old age.
The local lads that went away were indeed considered heroes by the community.
Tragically, with those who returned, it was moving to read how many died soon after doing so, because of their previous wounds and sicknesses.
The author quotes from many personal letters written by and received by the soldiers at the front. As can be imagined they are quite personal, especially from wives and mothers.
What struck me was how well written the letters were from the soldiers, giving a good indication that the early education system placed a lot of emphasis on the three “r” s.
The book includes plenty of photographs, some of them of weddings, family shots, individual pictures of the soldier, copies of postcards, memorials, tombstones and of the battlefront.
At the end of each section, Read gives a synopsis of their service, which is good for quick reference. Read has done her research well and one can determine the challenge has been over a long time.
It is an easy read, while being informative and entertaining. It does deal with a particular area of Tasmania, but nonetheless, it will add to anyone’s Tasmanian military and social library.