A small town mourns

Remembering them: The cenotaph in Boggabri.

Remembering them: The cenotaph in Boggabri.

Checking timelines and discussions about the Great War, it is often apparent that there are relatively “quiet” months. This doesn’t always translate as “no deaths” but it mostly does translate to “less deaths”.

July 1917 was one of those months where little in the way of pitched fighting was occurring across Europe – but it was the month after Messines, and those at home where starting to hear about the real catastrophe of lost lives. In Boggabri, the news was grim.

Boggabri always punched above its weight, and at Messines it lost many of its beautiful, spirited young men. So many in fact that Boggabri became news throughout the district as people shook their head and tried to understand how one small community could lose so many casualties in such a small space of time.

The Tamworth Daily Observer of July 15, 1917 reported: “Boggabri War Casualties … Lieutenant W. S. Dixon at the time he enlisted was employed in the ABC Bank, Boggabri. He has been killed in action in France… Oliver Bennett, 24, son of Mrs A. Sandberg, Boggabri, enlisted February, 1916, had been killed in action in France… Private Thomas Hanks, son of Mr Sam Hanks, has also been killed in action in France… Privates Whartley (2) sons of Mrs Ruth Whartley, of Boggabri, are reported killed in action in France… Privates Joe O’Leary, S. Avery, son of Mr Luke Avery and Jas Dederer, son of the late Mrs P J O’Brien are reported wounded.”

James Dederer, Thomas Avery and Joe O’Leary on the newspaper’s wounded list all survived the war. Also, one of the two Wortley brothers mentioned, Michael, survived. He was found to be a POW and returned to his family at war’s end – although the fortune ran out for Ruth there, as Vincent, the other “Private Whartley”, was not even accorded a burial.

This one report which gave a snapshot of the colossal loss for the small community did not tell the whole story. During the months of June and July, at Messines, four more Boggabri boys had lost, or would lose, their lives. Lachlan Boulton, Leslie Bignell, Robert Smith and Charles Smith’s names had been unreported in the Observer article, but not in army reports.

News eventually filtered down to those who loved them that these children would not be coming home either. Then Boggabri mourned even more.