WW 1 Aftermath

World War 1 – the Aftermath


News of the war ending was celebrated in Beecroft and Cheltenham by large crowds of young people congregating up and down Beecroft Road – banging tin cans and drums and blowing bugles. The celebrations were unfortunately marred that evening by one 16 year old boy, Alan McDonald Hartwell [1], who was killed by a horse and sulky running into him and being driven by Matthew Herbert Gillett of Pennant Hills. Gillett’s wife and a friend Denis Sheehan were in the sulky at the time and had no idea that they had run into Alan. Alan was 6 foot tall and had been a junior clerk at the shipping company Burns Philp. Rev Ogilvie, who had delivered the news of Jim’s death to his family and the news of so many other Beecroft sons wounded and dead, had another funeral of a young man. Grief, at what should otherwise have been a time celebrating the end of on-going grief. Gillett and his wife visited the parents of the deceased as soon as they could and Mr Hartwell said “You are a brave man to come and see me. As you have expressed your great sorrow at the act, I must accept it in spirit of repentance.” Gillett was acquitted by a jury of any criminal offence [2].

War Memorials and Honour Rolls

Just a few days after Armistice, on 26 November 1918,

“Beecroft and Cheltenham residents turned up in force to a public meeting in the Beecroft School of Arts .. to consider what steps should be taken to erect a suitable permanent memorial to those soldiers who had enlisted from this district.”

The first motion was to thank God for the end of the war and then it was noted that a temporary memorial listing those who enlisted would be constructed but should then be replaced by a permanent one because, as one of the most eminent of the local residents, Mr Robert Vicars said:

“it was regrettable that any memorial should be necessary but when peace became established and they became engrossed again in their ordinary businesses and pre-occupations they would be prone to forget. ‘Lest we Forget’. We should erect a memorial and we should take care that we should never forget what we owe to these men. They went at the call of the Empire at first but later it was at the call of the world” [3].

A war that was at first an assertion by Australians of self-worth (and according to more recent scholarship an endeavour to maintain a White Australia) had become a nation by its sacrifice.

Inevitably the result of the motions passed at the Progress Association, a committee was formed to fundraise and the ladies of the Red Cross were to assist by door knocking.

In the same newspaper the next news item recorded was that the Beecroft Musical and Dramatic Society, which had gone into suspension during the War, was being recommenced by Mr McKern within that very same week following the Armistice [4]. Village life was returning to normal.

The Beecroft-Cheltenham War Memorial movement became active in fundraising and looked at a range of worthy causes to support, including the building of a hospital [5]. It held a range of fundraising events like concerts and plays in the local School of Arts [6]. Initially designs were announced of a memorial which was proposed to have a masonry base surmounted by a war trophy. Let into the base would be bronze tablets bearing the name of those who enlisted [7]. This militaristic design did not eventuate but instead a memorial representing sacrifice in the form of a cenotaph constructed of Hawkesbury sandstone was built at a cost of 550 pounds. Its design followed the style also seen in what is now the Museum of Contemporary Art at Circular Quay. The design was by a local architect called William Laurie [8]. Sealed within the monument was a list of all names of local residents who volunteered while those who died were cut into the facing stone. The monument was unveiled on 11 November 1928 by Major General Charles Frederick (‘Fighting Charlie’) Cox who was at the time one of the Senators (1919-1938) for NSW and a public figure long known for his support of servicemen and their causes [9].

While there are some references to a time capsule, neither a time capsule nor a list of names, was found when the memorial was extensively renovated in 2020-21.

A Roll of Honour was unveiled at St John’s Church of England (now Anglican) Church Beecroft by Major-General Sir Charles Rosenthal KCB on 5 June 1921 identifying 66 men and 1 nurse who served from the district. The services conducted by Rev T Terry and a lesson was read by Rev A M Ogilvie of the Beecroft Presbyterian Church [10].

On 17 March 1920, a wooden honor roll was unveiled in the vestibule of Beecroft Primary School. It was unveiled by Mr William Thompson, a former Member of the Legislative Assembly who was supported by Canon J Young and the Reverends Terry and A M Ogilvy [11].

Other Rolls were unveiled in the School of Arts, the Primary School, two in the Presbyterian Church [12], one in the Methodist (now Uniting) Church and one (for the Second World War) in the Pennant Hills Golf Club.

Peace celebrations

On 25 July 1919, Peace celebrations were held at Beecroft Primary School where returned soldiers (Lieut Gilbert, Sgt Camper, Corporal Haywood, Pte Slingsby, Pte Goodwin and Pte J Fyfe) distributed peace medals to each of the children. The headmaster (Mr J I Forsyth) read an address written by the war historian, C E W Bean [13].

Bean established an ANZAC legend which was used to drive the sense of Australia’s emerging position as a nation, tried and battle hardened. There was grief for which solace was taken in the pride of achievement. The rise of a war memorial in every town and, as indicated in Beecroft in more than one location, was far more prevalent in Australia than in most other countries. In looking at the literary response to the war it has been said that this Australian response is in stark contrast to the writing of Remarque, Hemingway and others:

“The Antipodean experience was unusual because so much post-war literature in France, Germany, the USA and Britain focussed on the futility and senselessness of war. Back in Australia the returned servicemen’s journal Reveille campaigned vigorously against this sort of literature spread by foreign writers. The war created a wealth of literary output from those who fought on its battlefields and a new breed of well-educated soldier who vividly chronicled their first-hand experience. The old epic assertiveness and inflated rhetoric was transformed by English poets into subjective lyric mode which registered war’s impact on the private sensibility” [14].

At the following year’s Armistice Day, the Beecroft Primary School children again engaged in peace celebrations. Supported by the local Progress Association, a picnic was held in Mr Chorley’s paddock near Cheltenham railway station. The former Prime Minister (and former local member) Sir Joseph Cook attended and spoke. The ANZAC spirit still burned brightly for, as the Chairman of the War Memorial Committee said: 

“God had raised the men to lead the Empire in its time of danger and had put it into the hearts of Australians to volunteer to do their share” [15].

Public gatherings like these were soon to be curtailed as the impact of the Influenza Pandemic hit Sydney and eventually made its way to Beecroft [16].

The grief of a community through lost and maimed family members was palpable and yet seems only to have become tangible in the creation of Honour Rolls. It was a private family grief. It was a grief kept within the family and driving the family to do their duty. It was also a grief that curtailed jingoism and draped celebration of valour with the black cloth of mourning.

The aftermath of the war and public activities of women

During the course of the war, the Red Cross had been a focus of activity in the community. Preparation of material supports for the soldiers, fundraising, care for those returning, support and activity for family members anxious for their family members – all these things the Red Cross provided. With the end of the war the Beecroft Red Cross went into decline and closed. This closure proved temporary as in 1926 it re-formed to deal with the relief of tuberculosis amongst returned soldiers and others. The stalwarts of the war years were again enlisted – Mesdames Robert Vicars, Broderick, Dobbie, C Robertson Swan, H Whitehouse, Burrell, Holcombe, Holt, Nossiter, O Seale, A H Taylor, Rohrmann, Wyly and Misses Harvey and Newman [17].

This demonstrated organisational ability of the women of the village was not to be extended elsewhere. A push from some of the women, including a young local law student (Miss Marie Byles), for women to be granted membership of the Progress Association was defeated by men feeling “frightened at the idea of introducing ladies” [18]. In other local organisations, like the local protestant churches, it would not be for some decades that the first women were appointed to parish councils or sessions. Changes that might have been expected to come from the war did not emerge.

Many women too remained unmarried through the loss of a generation of men. The need to support single gentlewomen as they aged started during the war and came to Beecroft with the opening of Twilight House (now Jamieson House) in 1924 – described as “homes for gentlewomen of small means” [19].

The aftermath of the war and youth

In 1918 the first troop of Boy Scouts was formed in Beecroft Cheltenham and Mrs I Byles donated land (at the end of Mary and Fiona Streets) and funds to build a Scout Hall in memory of her brother who had been killed [20].

Returning servicemen

Dr Arthur established a series of Volunteer Workers Associations to build homes for returning servicemen with a disability. The first of these homes to be opened was on the corner of Day and Sutherland Roads Cheltenham. The State Government made available a lease of two acres of Crown land at a peppercorn rent and volunteers built a home for the cost (to the returned service man) of the materials – some of which were donated. They were assisted by the Boy Scouts of Beecroft and Cheltenham under Messrs Kenyon and Buckwell and led by a “Cheltenham amazon who acquitted herself in a business-like manner.” The home was opened (prior to completion) by the Governor’s daughter.

Unfortunately, the project was not as successful as hoped. Not only did the opening happen without warning to those on the site, but it was said that the house was ‘planked down in a wilderness of rocks’ and that ‘the only level part is taken up by an old railway cutting. The rest of the ‘land’ is barren rocks and precipes, with plenty of small sandstone boulders. The only things likely to be raised here would be corns of the feet of the ducks. If the Government leases the land to Corporal Bowden for a peppercorn per year, it would be collecting the full value of the site” [21].

Corporal Bowden was a New Zealander by birth who had worked as a labourer, opal miner and labourer. He was a veteran of the Boer War and medically discharged from Egypt in World War 1 for a pre-existing strained heart problem that had been aggravated by military service. After commencing to live on the site he and his wife sought to develop a poultry farm. ‘They considerably improved the barren block’ but he died on 15 September 1918 from heart failure He was 43 years of age [22].

[1]        Alan was the only son of Mr & Mrs Robert Dunlop Hartwell of Glengarry, Welham Street Beecroft. His sister sang at fund raising concerts held during the war. His father was a company registrar who went on to become a member of the Sydney Stock Exchange and, up until his son’s death, had been very active in Beecroft local affairs, especially through the Progress Association. Afterwards he remained a keen bowler. His sister (Mrs D C Young) named her first son, Alan: Sydney Morning Herald, 11 April 1923; 29 June 1939; 1 July 1939.

[2]        Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 21 December 1918, pages 8 and 11.

[3]        Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 30 November 1918 p 8

[4]        Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 30 November 1918

[5]        Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 5 June 1920 p11. The hospital being built at Hornsby.

[6]        Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 6 December 1919 p 8; 17 July 1920 p8

[7]        Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 6 December 1919

[8]        See the article on William Laurie elsewhere on this web site under People: Laurie, William

[9]        Sydney Morning Herald, 12 November 1928 p 12

[10]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 18 June 1921 p 8

[11]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 27 March 1920.

[12]      The first Roll of Honour was made by Mr J McKay and was unveiled before the war had even concluded: Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 17 February 1917, p.8

[13]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 26 July 1919 p 8

[14]      M Solling “Remembrance Day 2017” www.glebesociety.org.au

[15]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 30 November 1919, p8

[16]      See an article on the Influenza Pandemic elsewhere on this web site. Also see: Tony Cunneen “Beecroft and Cheltenham after the First World War” (in the course of publication, 2018)

[17]      The Sun, 23 July 1926 p 3

[18]      Tony Cunneen, Beecroft and Cheltenham in WWI (Deerubbin Press Berowra Heights 2006) p 76; Tony Cunneen “A noble sisterhood: Women in the First World War” Law Society of NSW Journal (July 2015) p38ff.

[19]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 14 July 1924

[20]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 7 December 1918

[21]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 15 April 1916 p. 8, 7 June 1916 p.2, 10 June 1916 p.8; Newcastle Morning Herald, 22 May 1919 p.5; Sydney Morning Herald 22 May 1916 p. 8; Daily Telegraph, 22 May 1916 p.9.

[22]      For more information on Corporal Bowden see, elsewhere on this website under Houses, Day Road.