Ex­hi­bi­tion links war items over decades

Western Suburbs Weekly - - Your Favourite Things - Rosanna Candler

A BLACK mourn­ing dress was kept in stor­age for more than 30 years at the Fresh­wa­ter Bay Mu­seum, un­til a chance dis­cov­ery two months ago re­vealed its in­cred­i­ble past.

Mu­seum of­fi­cer Janette Of­fer­mann said a woman from Al­bany an­swered their ap­peal for World War I sub­mis­sions to dis­play at the new ex­hi­bi­tion The West­ern Sub­urbs at War, which opened last week.

“She had a pho­to­graph of her great un­cle Hay­wood Smith, who had served in World War I, and his brother El­lis Austin Smith, who was killed in ac­tion in 1917,” Ms Of­fer­mann said.

“It is a very un­usual por­trait of them with­out their hats but still in mil­i­tary uni­form.

“I was say­ing to my col­league: ‘Oh I have just got­ten th­ese pho­tos and one was a lo­cal lad who lived on the cor­ner of Ot­way and Franklin streets’. She said: ‘Ot­way and Franklin? That rings a bell.’ Then we made the con­nec­tion – it was the same fam­ily who do­nated the dress so many years ago.”

Ms Of­fer­mann said the fam­ily were moved to tears when they heard the com­plete story.

“We have pho­tos of the mother Ade­laide Smith wear­ing the dress in mourn­ing for her son, and know she wore a locket with his photo for the rest of her life.

“She also planted a me­mo­rial tree in Kings Park that has un­for­tu­nately died, but we have that rare photo.”

Ms Of­fer­mann said it was serendip­i­tous how the pieces of the puz­zle came to­gether.

“With this ex­hi­bi­tion we see the war ac­tiv­ity, reg­i­ments, what hap­pened, how peo­ple worked to­gether, but with war comes the sor­row of loss,” she said.

“The dress re­veals a very per­sonal story about the ef­fect war had on peo­ple in the west­ern sub­urbs. We have it on dis­play in the mourn­ing room to com­mem­o­rate the huge loss of World War I.”

A flag gifted to the 44th Bat­tal­ion train­ing for World War I at the Clare­mont Show­ground nar­rowly avoided de­struc­tion when Clare­mont Coun­cil cham­bers burnt to the ground in 2010.

Ms Of­fer­mann said Clare­mont res­i­dents chipped in to pur­chase the ‘colour’ (or flag) for the 44th Bat­tal­ion in May 1916.

“The flag went to Europe, and the men brought it home with them in 1919,” she said.

“It was then do­nated to the Town of Clare­mont coun­cil and shown be­hind glass.

“When they were do­ing restora­tion work, they de­cided to do­nate it back to the 44th. They dis­banded and moved it on, so we had no doc­u­men­ta­tion of where it was. Of course, if they hadn’t do­nated it back, it would have per­ished in the fire.”

Ms Of­fer­man said the flag was re­dis­cov­ered about two years ago at the WA Mu­seum.

It ar­rived just last fort­night for show in the ex­hi­bi­tion, she said.

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