Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Shire of Nunawading Honour Board

In 1920 the decision was made to have an honour board created that would have inscribed the names of those from the district who had enlisted for service during the First World War. The honour board was to be displayed in the Shire Hall at Box Hill.

The honour board was designed by H Goldman Manufacturing Company, furniture-makers, who had worked on similar projects. The cost of the project was to be no more than £250. Up to 600 names were to be recorded on the honour board.
Honour Board in Box Hill Town Hall foyer - Photo taken 4 December 2009
There was some discussion as to the names to be included on the board. The plan was that the names of all volunteers from the district were to be inscribed on the board however, as with a number of other memorial projects, names were omitted.

Staff Nurse J M Gaff was the only woman whose name appeared on the honour board.

Steven Cooke in his book, The Sweetland Project, notes that "Nurses Clarice Daley and Harriet and Muriel Mawson would be missing from the list of those who served, although Nurse Jenny Gaff would be included." (p 132)

It is interesting then to try and reflect why Janet Muir Gaff's name was included and the names of the other nurses were omitted.

Janet Gaff and her family settled in Blackburn in the early 1890s after migrating to Australia from Scotland in 1891. The family home was Archernar, Gordon Crescent, Blackburn. Janet's mother was Marion Currie Steele who lived in the house with daughters Helen Mary and Marion Margaret. Her son Archibald William (and later his wife Frances) lived with the family for many years. From 1909 another son, John Shaw Steele, also lived in the family home until his death in 1927.  James McLean Steel,another son, lived in Box Hill until his death in 1909. Prior to the war Janet spent most of her time nursing in western Victoria, however the house in Blackburn was still used as her base and she returned to live there with her sisters when she returned from England in 1919.

When Marion Currie Steel died on 7 August 1914 a detailed obituary appeared in the Box Hill Reporter 14 August 1914 p 5 including the passages - "she was a familiar figure in her phaeton to regular users of Whitehorse and Canterbury roads" and "Mrs Steel was a lady of a fine intellectual type, being a great reader and student of Biblical and Jewish history and classical literature, and was keenly delighted to discuss these subjects. She also took a great interest in flowers and in her garden."

Blackburn was a small community early in the twentieth century. The Victorian Municipal Directory for 1911 describes Blackburn as "On creek with the same name, hotel, public hall, state school, and three churches. Poultry farming, gardening and fruit growing. Population 1040." (p 549) By 1916 the population had grown to 1,228. The entry read "rising township, with post, telegraph and telephone offices, hotel, state school, three churches, public hall, tennis courts, sports grounds, lake and park. Lit by electricity. Residential and fruit growing district." (p 556)

It can therefore be surmised that by the time of the war the Steel family was well known in a growing local community.

Another name on the honour board is that of John Shaw Steel, Janet's brother. John was an analytical chemist who applied to enlist in the army in 1916 but was discharged at the request of the Minister of Munitions and was transferred to the Engineer Service.

Janet enlisted in the AANS in August 1915 and after nursing for a year at the No 5 AGH in St Kilda Road she enlisted as a nurse in the No 4 Sea Transport Service working aboard troop ships travelling between Australia and England. She also worked in Australian Auxiliary hospitals in England until the end of the war.

Therefore Janet's strong family connections with the Blackburn area before and after the war, including her living in the area, her three and a half years spent nursing Australian soldiers as well as having a brother whose name was included on the board for his war service all possibly contributed to Janet's name being included on the Shire of Nunawading honour board.

Steven Cooke mentioned that the names of three other nurses from area were omitted from the honour board.

One of the names was that of Clarice Jessie Daley who was born in Box Hill in 1889. Clarice's father, John, was a builder and the according to the electoral rolls the family lived in other locations before the war including Bendigo (1906) and later Elsternwick. In 1912 Clarice is shown as being a nurse at the Melbourne Hospital. On 18 May 1915 Clarice was aboard a ship on her way to Lemnos where she nursed soldiers wounded during the Gallipoli campaign. On 21 October 1915 Clarice married Sergeant Ernest Lawrence. Clarice returned to Australia on 9 February as married nurses were not allowed to serve overseas. She was discharged from the army on 31 July 1916. Clarice, however appears to have continued working as a nurse as the 1919 electoral roll shows that she was a nurse at Base Hospital St Kilda Road. A detailed article about Clarice can be found on the City of Port Phillip Heritage website.

The other two names mentioned by Steven Cooke were of sisters Harriet Godden Mawson and Muriel Mawson. Harriet was born in Kensington in 1885 while Muriel was born in Carlton in 1889. The electoral rolls show that the girls' father, Frederick William Mawson, lived at Surrey Hills. The girls would have lived at the family home in Surrey Hills when they were young, however the 1914 electoral roll shows that Harriet was a nurse at Hamilton while the electoral roll for 1915 shows Muriel nursing at Castlemaine. Harriet enlisted 27 April 1917 and sailed for England on 9 May where she worked in a number of military hospitals. Muriel enlisted on 11 April 1917 and sailed for England in May. She also worked at military hospitals in England. Both Harriet and Muriel returned to Australia on 15 March 1919 and were discharged in July. Both the sisters continued working as nurses for many years. Australian Nurses in World War I website provides information about both of these nurses and also of their older sister Beatrice. Beatrice Mary Mawson, was born in England in 1881 and was also a nurse. Beatrice was nursing at Castlemaine before joining the British nursing service on 14 May 1915. She worked at the British hospital at Alexandria and later worked on transport ships sailing between Le Havre and England, making 23 trips. When Captain Mawson returned to Australia in June 1917, following the death of her father, the ship hit a mine near Bombay. Beatrice Mawson continued her nursing career in Australia.

It is not possible to know for certain why the names of these nurses were not included on the Shire of Nunawading honour board - one can only make an educated guess.

In Clarice's case, the family appear to have moved from the area when she was young, so it is possible that her connection with Box Hill was not widely known.

Muriel, Harriet and Beatrice, however, did have a war-time family connection to Surrey Hills and would have lived in the area when they were young. Beatrice was listed on the electoral roll at the Surrey Hills address in 1903. Harriet, according to the the 1919 electoral roll, was in Surrey Hills immediately after the war but then moved closer to the hospitals where she worked. As their father had died in 1917 and the girls were nursing out of the area, their war service with a connection to the local area was possibly overlooked.

Cooke, Steven. The Sweetland Project: Remembering Gallipoli in the Shire of Nunawading. North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly, 2005
Victorian Municipal Directory 1911 and 1916
Australian Nurses in World War I website

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