100 Years

1918 - 2018

Marking the end of World War I

A Story Told

By Colleen Dewis

This is a story told to me by my mother. It’s a story about how her family responded to and was affected by the 1914-18 World War.

My grandfather, who died before I was born, migrated from Yorkshire to Australia in the late 1860’s.

He was granted land in the Hunter Valley NSW where he established mixed farms and a vineyard.

He and my grandmother raised a family of five sons and seven daughters there. My mother was their last child born.

Their second son, Lyndon who was born in 1887, at the age of 21years, joined the NSW Mounted Police Unit which had been established to protect travellers, capture escaped convicts, and fight indigenous Australians.

Other members of the family were engaged in work on the farm producing food for the rapidly expanding population in the Hunter Valley where coal was being mined and exported from the harbour in Newcastle.

When WW1 broke out the family supported the war effort in many ways. My grandfather raised funds and built a community hall where people gathered to work on various projects to support the soldiers fighting overseas. Many local men and boys had enlisted and were engaged in fighting overseas.

Men marching in Broken Hill after the white rocks attackMen marching in Broken Hill after the white rocks attackState Library of South Australia [PRG 280/1/33/163]Lyndon, as a Mounted Policeman, had been posted to Broken Hill during the miners’ strike in 1909, which had resulted in a 'Lockout' lasting five months. This required police reinforcements to be sent to the town to deal with ongoing riots during this period. Lyndon remained stationed in Broken Hill from 1909 till the end of the 1914-1918 war.

On New Year’s Day 1915, at 10 am, Broken Hill was the scene of the only enemy attack on Australian soil in WW1. This was just four months before the Anzacs fought the Turks at Gallipoli. A Silverton bound train was fired on by two men hiding in an ice cream cart and flying the Turkish flag. The train was carrying more than 1200 picnickers from Broken Hill to Silverton.

It had been a tradition in the mining town to hold a New Year’s Day picnic for the whole community and to travel by train to Silverton, a few miles away. The destination was a popular area along a shady creek. For this special occasion the iron ore wagons were hosed out and seating installed to transport the picnickers with their hampers to celebrate this annual event.

As a result of this surprise attack many people were wounded and in total there were six deaths, including the two attackers. The two turbaned attackers fled to a rocky outcrop just outside the town and were pursued by the police and militia. A gun battle lasting a few hours was fought there and finally the two attackers were shot. One died at the scene and the other died after being taken to hospital. Letters left behind by the two Muslim Afghans revealed they were responding to the Turkish Sultan’s jihad against all unbelievers as Turkey was then at war with Australia. They had planned to first shoot the operators of the train creating a 'runaway' train which would cause the deaths of all the train passengers. They intended to die as heroes of the jihad.

In 1918 the good news of the announcement of the signing of the Armistice and the end of the war was a cause of great euphoria and celebrations in the Hunter Valley community. There was also mourning for the local boys and men who would not return.

There was more good news for the family, besides the end of the Great War. Lyndon was on his way home from Broken Hill for some leave, before taking up his next posting which was to be in Sydney. This was an exciting time for my mother as she was just a baby when Lyndon left for Broken Hill.

While Lyndon was home on leave he became engaged to be married to his childhood sweetheart. This was a reason for another celebration and the Community Hall was put to good use again; this time with speeches, music and dancing.

After his period of leave Lyndon rejoined the Mounted Police unit in Sydney where his role was to patrol the wharves as the troop ships arrived back home. Unfortunately, the ships brought back not only the soldiers but also the deadly Spanish ‘Flu. In NSW alone approximately 6,000 people died due to this epidemic. Lyndon was one of the many who contracted the Spanish ‘Flu and he died in Sydney in 1919.

Because of this story told to me by my Mother, when I think of WW1 and the Armistice, I always think of two much-loved and admired members of my family whom I wish I’d been able to meet.

Colleen Dewis, 2018

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