Their Duty Done
A tribute to the men and women of the East Gippsland Region who Died as a result of their participation in World War One : 1914 - 1919
Their Duty Done is a project about commitment. Commitment from the men and women who served in World War I and commitment from researchers of today wanting to give these people a voice and recognition. When we commenced this project (initially ten years ago), two individuals were accessing one website, the National Archives of Australia, for information from attestation papers about the names on the one main local honour roll that is housed at the East Gippsland Historical Society Museum in Bairnsdale. This roll consists of over 900 names of soldiers who were either one of the 167 supreme sacrifice or 780 returned servicemen. It was felt that they should be more than names and they deserved the dignity of a “story” at the very least and a photograph at the best. We gave little thought to the anniversary of the Anzac Day landing that was four years away. Jump forward about three years. We now have shelves of A4 lever arch folders containing pockets with information on each individual soldier except that we haven’t stopped at the one honour roll. As more and more websites came on-line as the anniversary raced toward us, we expanded our field of research. Not content with the 900 names from the one main roll we now raked through newspaper articles looking for lists of recruits, we included all of the region’s known honour rolls and war memorials, and we didn’t limit ourselves to just those who gave their lives. As momentum grew and volunteers to the project grew the database of over 3,500 names of East Gippsland men and women came into existence. The criteria used has fluctuated but basically remained as:  1 . The person was born in the East Gippsland region. 2 . The person enlisted from an East Gippsland town. 3. The person was a proven resident of East Gippsland before 1914                              (i.e. consistently appears on electoral roles.) Next of kin residing in the region was not considered enough qualification by itself and an individual’s association distinct from the next of kin living here has always been sought. For the sake of the exercise we drew a rough line in the sand and said that Munro, Clydebank and Dargo were “in” (as some of those families orientated to Bairnsdale) but Stratford was “out”. To the north Omeo, Cobungra, Sunnyside and Benambra were “in” but Mitta Mitta and Harrietville were “out” and to the east the border with a bit of a dog leg for some Monaro connections then back to Delegate River and Dellicknora has become that boundary. The ninety mile beach was our obvious border to the south, however a few Flinders Island residents did end up here in Bairnsdale as well.
World War I may no longer be in living memory but it remains an important part of our past - a past that many of us still feel a close connection. As part of the centenary of World War 1 the East Gippsland Family History Group will be adding to this website the stories of the fallen. It is envisaged that over the next four years, the duration of the war, that we will remember all those of East Gippsland who died and, hopefully, many of those who returned.   Around 420,000 Australians enlisted for service which represented approximately 40% of the male population between the ages of 18 and 44 years with approximately 3,200 of them coming from East Gippsland. The Roll of Honour in Canberra records the number of Australian deaths as being 61,514 - an average of 38 Australians died every day of the war and we estimate that over 520 East Gippsland men and women died over those four years – one death every third day. Australia wide over 155,000 were wounded in action including being gassed or suffering shell shock.   War was declared on 28 July 1914 and the first to enlist from East Gippsland were McPhee, Brownell, Burt, McDonald, Sommerville and Harbeck who signed up just over a fortnight later and left, with others, on the first convoy from Melbourne on the Hororato on 17 October. Eighteen East Gippsland men were on the Hororata with only six of them eventually coming home.   The first deaths of any East Gippslanders were at the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 when twelve East Gippsland men lost their lives. In the first six months of the war, 63 families were touched with the deaths of their loved ones, including Bairnsdale nurse, Louisa Bicknell, the two Evans brothers from Lindenow who died together on the same day. Other brothers to die belonged to the Sparrow, Davis and Terry families. The reality of war had hit home.