Thursday, May 21, 2015

Remembering them: People of St George and the First World War

Mateship & Mercy

As part of the National Trust Heritage Festival, Hurstville Museum & Gallery hosted a talk on Monday 11 May 2015 to complement this year’s theme conflict and compassion. The presentation, given by Local Studies officer David Clarke, highlighted the compassion and camaraderie shown by the people of the Hurstville district during the trying times of the Great War. 
Through letters, diary extracts and correspondence the experiences of local service men and their loved ones came alive to paint a holistic picture of the impact of the conflict. Hearing such personal stories was an incredibly emotional and touching experience for the audience. 

Two stories in particular stood out for the remarkable way in which they intersected. 

The SS Barunga, a former German-Australian liner seized by Australia Government at the beginning of the war and repurposed as a transporter, was the common thread joining the experiences of Hurstville residents Mrs Margaret Edser and Hurstville servicemen William John Duffell. Following the death of her husband, Charles Edser, on the Western Front in 1917, Mrs Edser pursued a lengthy quest for the return of her late husband’s belongings, to be shipped home.  It happened that the belongings met the same fate as the gunner William Jon Duffell when the SS Barunga sunk after being struck by a torpedo in July 1918. Fortunately, William John Duffell was among the survivors who were rescued. He later remembered: 
"I managed to grab a pair of pants, a shirt and a pair of canvas shoes. I lost everything but my pocket book and the Bible I got from the church". (Hurstville Propeller, 4 October 1918, p.1).
Gunner William John Duffel was among the survivors who were rescued from the SS Barunga.
Image from Hurstville Honour Roll, No 1.
Hurstville City Library Museum & Gallery collection. 

Mrs Edser was not so lucky, left back in Hurstville without the belongings of her beloved, which had been lost at sea

Charles Edser, was killed in action in Belgium in October 1917.
Image from the Hurstville Honour Roll, No 1 .
Hurstville City Library Museum & Gallery collection.

Stories such as these put a face to the men and women whose lives were forever changed by the Great War. The audience joined together to pay their respects, concluding the talk with the words ‘Lest We Forget’.

Don't forget to visit our exhibition before it closes on Sunday 31 May 2015!

Watch this video of descendants of First World War soldiers presenting their family memorabilia. 

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