Ahead of remembrance day on November 11, it’s worth highlighting the rich history of The Ipswich Railway Workshops War Memorial. It’s a unique tribute to the employees of the Workshops who enlisted to serve in the First World War.
There are over 300 names on the memorial that was built in 1919.
The monument was conceived of in 1915 and plans were set in motion to raise the money.
The strong public sentiment that surrounded the efforts of those that went to war, saw railway families contribute to a memorial when they had little to spare.
By 1917 the fund was well advanced and construction commenced in July 1919.
On the 27th of September 1919, a crowd of over 2000 people assembled to witness the unveiling of the memorial.
Photo courtesy of Queensland Museum Network
Those who served from the workshops did so overwhelmingly in Infantry Battalions.
Some served with the Australian Light Horse Divisions, others with artillery units and at least one enlisted with the Australian Flying Corps.
Many who enlisted from the workshops utilised the skills they had gained in civilian life in their military service as members of Pioneer Battalions and Railway Operating Divisions.
Several had significant military experience with some having served in the Boer War.
Men who left the workshops for enlistment left safe in the knowledge that their jobs were secure until their returned.
Queensland Railway employees who enlisted were granted indefinite leave rather than being expected to resign.
Those who survived the war and returned to employment with Queensland Railways resumed their original jobs, or took positions equivalent to the ones they held before they enlisted, with no cuts to pay or entitlements.
Every name on the memorial tells a story and we are able to catch a glimpse into the culture and community spirit of the time.
Letters written to friends and family by many of the men who enlisted were published in local papers, detailing their exploits and experiences.
Lieutenant John Powe Roberts
John Powe Roberts was the first man killed in action from the Railway Workshops. Roberts was born on 18 October 1882 in Jarrow, Tyne and Wear England. He married in 1904 and immigrated to Australia with his wife Sarah Kennedy in 1911. At the outbreak of war they were living in a house on Flint Street in North Ipswich and Roberts was employed at the Workshops as an engineer. With 12 years’ experience in the Durham Light Infantry before arriving in Australia, Roberts was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the 9th Battalion. He was among the first men to arrive on the beach at Gallipoli on April 25. Roberts was wounded that same day and was being stretchered back to safety when a shell exploded overhead and killed both him and the stretcher bearers carrying him. He was buried at Walker’s Ridge Cemetery on the Gallipoli Peninsula.
Private George Clark
George Clark was born in Scotland, immigrated to Australia and worked in the Machine Shop at the Workshops. He was amongst the first men from Ipswich to enlist at the age of 24 and served in D company of the 9th Battalion, which was led by fellow shopmate Lieutenant John Powe Roberts. Clark was killed on 2 May 1915. He is remembered at the Lone Pine Memorial, Gallipoli Peninsula. George’s brother Alexander Clark was also living in Ipswich at the time and excerpts from George’s letters from the front to his brother were reported in the Queensland Times. News of his death was also reported in the newspaper, the article describing him as “a strong young Scotsman brimful of energy”.
Sapper James Archibald Lindsay
James Archibald Lindsay was killed in action on 10 May 1915. He enlisted with the 3rd Field Company Royal Engineers. Lindsay entered employment with the Ipswich Railway Workshops as an apprentice Fitter and Turner. He was born in Bundamba and was a prominent footballer, representing Queensland against New Zealand in 1913 as well as playing for the state against English sides. He was captain of the St Pauls football team for the three years. Lindsay was also a keen rifleman, winning many medals and trophies in marksmanship competitions. He was buried in the Courtney’s and Steel’s Post Cemetery on the Gallipoli Peninsula.
Sergeant William Gunn
William Gunn was another recent immigrant to Australia from Scotland. He had served with the Army Medical Corp in the Boer War. When Gunn first arrived in Queensland he worked for the Ipswich Ambulance Brigade before finding employment with the Railway Workshops. He was also a keen football player and cricketer. Enlisting in August 1914 with the Field Engineers, he was later assigned to the 3rd Australian Field Ambulance. A number of his letters home were published in the ‘Queensland Times’ and detail his experiences at Gallipoli. Word of his death was received and published in the same edition as his last letter. This article spoke of a man who had risked his own life many times to save others, and as a consequence of one of these actions had been mentioned in dispatches. The article also recounted that when his commanding officer suggested that he should go to Malta to recuperate, as he had spent five months performing strenuous and dangerous work, he responded that he would prefer to stay on Gallipoli. Having been there since the start of things, he would like to see the end of them. Gunn was killed in action on the 24 November 1915 and is buried at No 2 Outpost Cemetery, Gallipoli Peninsula.
Private Victor Still
Victor Still enlisted on May 26th 1915 at 18 years of age. His enlistment papers detail his occupation as a Loco Engine Fitter. Joining the 8th reinforcements of the 9th Battalion, he sailed from Brisbane on the 16th of August 1915. Victor served in France where he was transferred to the 49th Battalion. He was wounded in action on three separate occasions and died of wounds on the 29th of October 1917.
The Mayor of Ipswich Alderman Pearson Welsley Cameron received official confirmation of Still’s death on the 6th of November 1917. The Mayor regularly accepted the responsibility of informing the next of kin of fallen soldiers of their relative’s death. The mayor proceeded to Brassall State School accompanied by a priest to inform Still’s father – G. Still – who was the school’s Head Teacher. The first assistant teacher, with the assistance of pupils, had the flag at the school flown at half-mast on learning the news. Victor Still is buried at the Mont Huon Military Cemetery, Le Treport, Haute-Normandie, France.
The Workshops Rail Museum will be holding a Remembrance Day Service at 10:30 am November 11 at The Workshops War Memorial.
Visitors are encouraged to attend and observe one minute of silence at 11 am. Entry is free to residents of Ipswich with proof of residency.