Heroes, hope and heartbreak

Fam­i­lies re­veal the sto­ries of our An­zacs

Sunday Tasmanian - - News - ANNE MATHER

THEY are the war sto­ries that have been wait­ing a cen­tury to be told.

They are the voices of loss and long­ing, courage and fear, that have been care­fully folded away and stored for safe­keep­ing.

But now, 100 years on, per­sonal di­aries and let­ters from Tas­ma­nia’s wartime past are be­ing dusted off and shared.

“All th­ese old sto­ries have come to light … we’ve learnt so much,” said Ted Domeney, who has been part of a team of Chan­nel res­i­dents gather­ing to­gether their fam­i­lies’ World War I mem­o­ra­bilia for an up­com­ing ex­hi­bi­tion.

The ex­hi­bi­tion has been sparked by a resur­gence of in­ter­est in mil­i­tary his­tory since the An­zac centenary com­mem­o­ra­tions that started four years ago and cul­mi­nate to­day, 100 years since the Ar­mistice.

Gra­ham Rae, who is one of the ex­hi­bi­tion or­gan­is­ers, said lo­cals’ in­ter­est in their fam­i­lies’ mil­i­tary his­tory has grown af­ter each An­zac Day dawn ser­vice.

“The centenary of An­zac has stim­u­lated a lot of fam­i­lies and seen them dig­ging out their mem­o­ra­bilia,” he said.

Old boxes, di­aries and photo al­bums have been opened, and their heart­felt con­tents shared.

“Th­ese are re­ally historic doc­u­ments,” said Sue Ed­wards, whose grand­fa­ther’s World War I di­ary and let­ters to his fi­ance will be part of the ex­hi­bi­tion at Wood­bridge Hall.

Ms Ed­wards said she al­ways knew there was a box of war mem­o­ra­bilia in her mother’s old Huon pine dress­ing ta­ble, but it wasn’t un­til re­cent times that she was mo­ti­vated to open it. “I knew there was this wooden box of old stuff … but the sto­ries that have come out of it are amaz­ing,” she said.

As well as her grand­fa­ther Robert Row­ley’s war di­ary, which notes the time and places of his war ser­vice, the box con­tains 20 poignant let­ters sent to his fu­ture wife Eliza.

“She kept all of his old let­ters, and they show a side to him that’s not in his di­ary.”

Along­side the love sto­ries are the let­ters home from young sol­diers who had no idea of their tragic fate.

Seven­teen-year-old Owen Domeney, who en­listed un­der­age, re­as­sures his par­ents of his good health only days be­fore he was killed in ac­tion.

Such his­tor­i­cal arte­facts are be­ing un­earthed and re-ex­am­ined around Tas­ma­nia be­cause of the na­tional fo­cus on war his­tory, said Univer­sity of Tas­ma­nia his­tory pro­fes­sor Ste­fan Petrow.

He said the surge in in­ter­est in fam­i­lies’ mil­i­tary his­tory was

shown in the large num­bers study­ing his on­line unit “Fam­i­lies at War”, which is part of the Diploma in Fam­ily His­tory.

He said 1200 stu­dents had taken the course in the past two years, many of whom were ma­ture-age peo­ple want­ing to un­lock their own fam­ily se­crets.

“When peo­ple are re­search­ing their fam­ily his­tory they dis­cover that peo­ple who serve at war of­ten don’t want to talk about their ex­pe­ri­ence — so fam­i­lies never ask.”

As a re­sult, it was of­ten the adult grand­chil­dren of vet­er­ans who would dig through ar­chives once their an­ces­tor had passed away.

“They might go through a box or the at­tic and dis­cover all th­ese per­sonal ef­fects.”

The results were of­ten “life chang­ing”, as peo­ple be­gin to un­der­stand the im­pact war had on their fam­i­lies

“It might ex­plain why their grand­par­ents didn’t get on, or gran­dad drank or didn’t go to An­zac Day,” Prof Petrow said.

Friends of Sol­diers Walk pres­i­dent Adrian Howard said the An­zac centenary had def­i­nitely prompted peo­ple to search their own his­to­ries.

“There have been th­ese trig­gers that have in­spired peo­ple to sud­denly look in a box or go through old let­ters,” he said.

He said re­search has also be­come more pop­u­lar be­cause war ser­vice records were now kept on dig­i­tal data­bases, such as the Na­tional Ar­chives of Aus­tralia and the Aus­tralian War Me­mo­rial.

For Ted Domeney, his re­search into fam­ily his­tory has not only con­cen­trated on his an­ces­tors’ war ser­vice but their land ac­qui­si­tions through the 1916 Sol­dier Land Set­tle­ment Scheme.

The govern­ment pro­gram helped re­turned sol­diers pur­chase land around the state, but in many cases the ac­qui­si­tions were a fail­ure be­cause sol­diers strug­gled to make a liv­ing off the land and re­pay loans.

In the case of Ted’s un­cle Wil­liam Domeney, who pur­chased land in Flow­er­pot through the scheme af­ter serv­ing in World War I, the land be­came part of the Chan­nel’s rich fruit grow­ing his­tory.

Wil­liam bought land next to prop­erty be­long­ing to his brother (Ted’s fa­ther), and the fam­ily went on to build ap­ple or­chards — lead­ing to the suc­cess­ful Domeney Bros fruit­grow­ers.

Even­tu­ally the Flow­er­pot prop­erty was handed down to Ted, who went on to grow cher­ries on the site.

Along­side the di­aries and let­ters, the ex­hi­bi­tion at Wood­bridge will also show trench art brought back by sol­diers.

“Th­ese brass sou­venirs were made out of the ar­tillery shells,” said Gra­ham Rae.

Sol­diers’ favourite war po­etry, care­fully cut from news­pa­per pages, will also be on dis­play.

Mr Rae said the ex­hi­bi­tion would have four com­po­nents — de­tail­ing life at war, the Ar­mistice, life back home and the rea­sons to com­mem­o­rate.

The ex­hi­bi­tion at the Wood­bridge Hall will be on next week­end, November 17 and 18, from 10am-4pm. En­try is free.

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