Howard Jones | District names reminders of the sacrifices from Great War

“BAD news, very bad news.”

That was the reaction among Wodonga shire councillors when a Border Morning Mail reporter rushed in and told the shire president that Great Britain had declared war on Germany in 1914.

Within days, 100 young men from the district had enlisted in Albury.

Also, some Border women desperately wanted to be nurses.

Half-a-dozen young blokes volunteered to form a motor-cycle unit.

Remember, Australia wanted horsemen and horses, not just for the Light Horse but for artillery units.

Urgent steps were taken locally to secure a couple of hundred horses for the war effort.

Paradoxically, the same war ushered in warplanes and tanks.

With memories of the Boer War still fairly fresh, an appeal was made to give departing Border soldiers cigarettes, tobacco and pipes.

They were expected to be home by Christmas, of course, and local churches prayed the war would be even shorter than that.

Alas, it was to drag on for four long years.

Today, August 4, was the day in 1914 Great Britain declared war on Germany, though battles had already begun in France and Belgium a day or two earlier.

Because of the time zones and slow cable communication, the news wasn’t announced by prime minister Joseph Cook in Melbourne until 1pm on August 5, reaching Albury at 2.20pm.

No radio, television, internet, not even a telephone link to Melbourne, was available at that time.

All the enlisting soldiers were children of the 19th century, born before Australian federation and all British subjects.

Many went to Gallipoli within nine months, some to France and Belgium after that.

Those who survived joked they “went out of the frying pan into the fire”.

Interestingly, the first Albury Council that met after the declaration of war heard an appeal not to discriminate against “German” families.

A Labor Party stalwart, Alderman Harry Davies, “hoped that the people, welded together as they were in loyal devotion to the Empire, would endeavour to extend sympathy and tolerance towards those worthy German residents of Australia who were in no sense responsible for the unfortunate resort to arms”.

Hundreds of men from the Border and North East were among more than 60,000 men who didn’t return home from the war.

Probably more than that died within 20 years of the effects of war.

Memorials throughout the district testify to the sacrifice of locals.

A handful of 1914-18 veterans survived in Albury-Wodonga to the 1980s and 1990s, and I was privileged to interview a few, such as Alan Stow, Bill Trewella, Stan Carney, Fred Kay, Carl Reeves and Frank Evans.

The last World War I district man was Walter Winnett, of Holbrook, who died in May 2000, aged 100.

Noreuil Park and the locality called Charleroi near Sandy Creek are other legacies of World War I.

Returned soldiers from the Albury Battery nominated the French name Noreuil in 1919.

They had served with distinction in a terrible battle with the Germans at the devastated village of Noreuil, near Bullecourt, in 1917 when part of the 5th Field Artillery Brigade.

Indeed, they became “diggers” again when the helped create the riverside park — bringing their owns spades and shovels.

Charleroi was once known as Lockhart’s Creek and had a school of that name.

In 1923, its postal address and a new school building were renamed Charleroi after a Belgian village where exhausted Australian soldiers had been treated well towards the end of the war.