Saturday 25 April 2015

The Anzac Centenary in Carnamah

Amid a fresh east wind and before a crowd of a few hundred, Carnamah continued its annual tradition of holding an Anzac Day dawn service at the Carnamah War Memorial. We were honoured to provide the address, of which a summery is below.

Each Anzac day large numbers of Australians gather at war memorials and other sacred sites to pay tribute and utter the words Lest We Forget. But... have we forgotten? Who are we remembering? Acknowledging sacrifice, although a worthy endeavour, isn't quite the same thing as remembering individuals. Those who died during the First World War were sons, fathers, husbands, brothers, nephews, cousins and/or friends. They had names, jobs, interests and aspirations. Despite changes in the world over the past 100 years, their lives weren't really that different to our own.

Let’s pause on that for a moment though, and jump back to 1914…

When the First World War broke out, Carnamah was a much smaller place than it is today. The Macpherson family had been here for over 45 years, a few others families for about a decade and the first settlers to take up Ready-Made Farms had just arrived.

Carnamah had a small one-teacher school which was under the management of 25 year old Alick McLean who, like many in Carnamah, was a Scottish immigrant. An Education Department inspector described him as "Inexperienced but eager to improve. A Good Teacher." He was granted leave from teaching towards the end of 1914 to allow him to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force, or A.I.F. He was 6 feet ¾ inches tall, weighed 164 pounds (which is 74 kilograms) and had blue-grey eyes, light brown hair and a fair complexion.

After less than a month of training at Blackboy Hill, on the outskirts of Perth, Alick departed from Fremantle on 2 November 1914. After further training in Egypt he was part of the infamous landing at the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey - on this day 100 years ago. His battalion landed while it was still dark. One of his comrades thought he had been shot, possibly in the arm and headed for the beach. Whatever did happen, he died and was never seen again.

Coorow farmhand George Bell also took part in the landing at Gallipoli and was shot in the thigh. He was bandaged by his comrades but had to be left behind when they were forced to retreat. He was listed as missing in action and it was hoped he'd been taken a prisoner of war. This was hoped as it meant he might still be alive. His aunt Mrs Janet McGill, who also lived in Coorow, appealed to his comrades for any information but sadly it was in vein. Four years later his body was found and it was ruled that he too had been killed in action at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. 

Carnamah labourer John Davern served at Gallipoli after the landings but only for six days. He was shot in the thigh and on retiring his lieutenant said they'd send stretcher bearers for him. Unfortunately none came and he laid there until the afternoon when he was captured by Turkish forces. He was a prisoner for the remainder of the war and kept variously in hospitals, prisons and churches across Turkey. At one hospital his wounds were never dressed and they turned black. At another the treatment was exceptional and after five months his wounds finally began to heal. At the end of the war he was repatriated to England and later returned to Australia.

Left: Bill Laundy of the Carnamah Lions Club
Right: Andrew Bowman-Bright of the Carnamah Historical Society & Museum

It’s also worth remembering that Anzac Day isn't just about Gallipoli or the First World War. It is a day to acknowledge and remember the service and sacrifice of all men and women in all conflicts. On the war memorial in Carnamah are 17 names.

We remember Carnamah railway fettler Aeneas Murray, labourers Sydney Brooks, James Keenan and Edward Statham, and two men whose full names have been lost to the passages of time and which no one can positively identify – E. Kennedy and W. Regan. We also remember three men whose names were omitted from the memorial, either unintentionally or because at the time Winchester was seen as a district of its own. They are Winchester farmer Major Christopher Hoskyns-Abrahall, Winchester farmhand Charles Vernede and clearing contractor Herbert Larkin.

From the Second World War we remember Carnamah bank teller Bernie O’Hara, Coorow farmhand Spanner Spencer, former Carnamah policeman Maurie Plunkett, Carnamah farmhands George McGowan and James Murphy, Waddy Forest farmers Jim Morcombe and Keith Morcombe, and Carnamah mechanics Bill Clark and Ivan Johnson.

The Carnamah Historical Society & Museum, with support from Lotterywest, is a partner in the WA Museum’s Remembering Them project, which is to stage small exhibitions on the First World War across regional Western Australia. The exhibition was on show at the community breakfast at the Carnamah Bowling Club and will continue at our museum.

We have also created a virtual exhibition on the First World War, which can be seen at This was made possible thanks to the Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program, Bankwest and the North Midlands Project. Special thanks are also due to Reg Ellery for his photo-editing contributions.

37 men from Carnamah and Winchester served during the First World War with ten never returning home.

Lest We Forget.

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