Exhibition links war items over decades
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.