Residents from across the Gunnedah shire and further afield today marked a milestone that will occur only once in their lifetime.
November 11, 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I (WWI) and just shy of 100 years since the Tambar Springs cenotaph was built to recognise the lives of the 94 men who answered the call of the empire from 1914-17.
Historian, author and former NVI editor Ron McLean said the small village had one of the highest ratios of soldiers enlisted to fight, with 14 lost to the war.
The war still raged when Tambar Springs applied to the Federal Government for permission to build what is possibly the oldest WWI memorial in all of Australia. For a cost of 400 pounds, the cenotaph was constructed by December 1918, a month after the war ended. It was officially opened on January 31, 1919.
Mr McLean said the cenotaph’s history gave Tambar Springs a “special place in the military history of Australia” and recalled some of the men who left home and hearth for the battlefield; among them “farmers, farmhands, stock men, boundary riders, fencers and one teacher from the local school”.
“They were fired with the ideal of defending the empire,” Mr McLean said.
“They were totally unaware of the grime realities of war.
“The general consensus was that the war would be over by Christmas.
“It was a cataclysmic chapter of the world’s history.”
Mr McLean said Tambar’s Louis John Mathias, known as Jack, was the “most decorated soldier in the whole of the Gunnedah district” in WWI. Mr Mathias was a dam-sinker and rural worker in the Gunnedah-Coolah district when he enlisted in February 1916, just shy of his 30th birthday. The soldier received the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Medal for “exceptional courage, initiative, skill and able leadership”.
Mr McLean said Mr Mathias was part of a “generation very badly affected by war”, with some families losing more than one member to the call of war.
“You can imagine the effects that would have had on the villages,” Mr McLean said.
“They didn’t know day-to-day if they were going to hear from a telegram boy or clergyman to say they’d lost someone.”
National Farmers Federation president and Premer woman Fiona Simson represented Tambar at the centenary service and spoke of two members of her own family – John (Jack) and Robert Simson – who fought in WWI.
Jack did not return from Belgian and lies in a grave in a small war cemetery, Reninghelst, near the Belgian town of Ypres.
“Jack was one of the 61,000 Australians who didn’t come home,” Ms Simson said.
She said Jack “perhaps typifies many of our community” and died at the young age of 26.
“As I look at my own son Tom, now the same age, I can’t imagine anything worse. I can only imagine the anguish yet stoicism of those left behind,” she said.
“There were farms to run, animals to look after, businesses who needed to function, children who needed to be schooled, and families who needed to be there when their loved ones hopefully returned home.”
The centenary event was a community effort, with poems recited by RSL member Carol Lees and students from Tambar Springs Public School. Gunnedah Shire Band, Tammy Clark and Gunnedah Conservatorium performed a number of pieces including Flanders Fields and Nightfall in Camp DA.
Special guest included Parkes MP Mark Coulton, Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson, Gunnedah shire mayor Jamie Chaffey and Gunnedah RSL Sub-branch members Peter Clarke and Peter Kannegeisser.
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