The proud war records of some of the Eden soldiers who died in WW1 have been profiled in the Magnet recently.
The graves of one of these men, bearing a very personal inscription, was seen first-hand during a visit to Belgium by Narooma’s Philip Creagh.
With the centenary of the beginning of World War 1 upon us, the 65-year-old retired veterinarian has been pursuing his passion for WW1 history by tracing the stories of those who enlisted from the South Coast.
His special interest has been in men from the Eurobodalla and from his graduating school, Sydney Grammar School.
“For the past six years I have been visiting the World War One (WWI) battlefields and war cemeteries tracing and photographing the boys [headstones] from my old school and the boys from the South Coast from Bodalla to Eden,” Mr Creagh said.
On a trip to Belgium recently Mr Creagh made a visit to the Menin Road South Military Cemetery, a commonwealth war graves commission burial ground for the dead of WWI located near Ypres, on the western front.
It was here he found the headstone of 21-year-old George Silvester Goward, a policeman of Eden who was recently highlighted in the Eden Magnet for his service in WWI.
“I also made a visit to the grave of Reginald Williams. Both Goward and Williams were in the first pioneer battalion and both were killed in action within a week of each other.
“I wonder if they knew each other,” he said.
“About 20 per cent of the headstones have epitaphs.
“Many are individual and very moving.”
He said the only way to see these epitaphs is to visit the graves personally.
“The fact that there is no official register of epitaphs has become a point of controversy among war historians.
“I think this point is best summarised by someone who said ‘they should not be published as when you visit the grave and you read the epitaph it is like a quiet and intimate whisper from the past’, a sentiment that I agree with.”
Mr Creagh said very few people would get the chance to see the epitaph of Private Goward, so he wanted to share it with the Eden community. It is as follows:
‘A beautiful memory/left behind/duty nobly done.’
“These epitaphs give a window into the grief the parents, wives and loved ones felt and the inscription on Goward’s is very moving,” Mr Creagh said.
Mr Creagh said next of kin were offered the chance to have an epitaph put on the soldier’s headstone and at first this was at a cost for a maximum of 66 letters (including spaces) at three pence per letter.
“This caused a furore at the time as it was felt, quite rightly, they had given their lives for the war and the families were being subjected to money pinching,” he said.
Mr Creagh said he first became interested in WW1 history as a schoolboy.
“When I was at school, on a Friday afternoon my school would hold an assembly and the students would sit on long pews.
“In front of us was a beautiful memorial which I would stare at for years.
“As you get older you would move closer to the memorial at these assemblies and I would notice the different names with associated medals and Victoria Cross awards and it sparked an interest in me.”
When Mr Creagh went to university to study veterinary science, he lost interest in his course and wound up in Narooma where he clearly remembers his first ANZAC ceremony in the area.
“There were six boys at the ceremony that day wearing medals of the fallen.
“I asked about them and when I was next in France and England I found myself visiting their memorial sites,” he said.
“When you get into it, you learn about where they fought and where they died and it is extremely moving.
“Finding out more over the years about the boys from Sydney Grammar who enlisted and locals as well became a bit of an obsession.
“Now I feel like I have to visit them all because it’s a bit like writing a story about fishing when you have never gone fishing, I feel like I need to know as much as possible.”